Same old duet: drug companies and psychiatry

Here’s more this month from investigative journalist Alison Bass, author of the book Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial:

“The same drug giants paying millions of dollars to settle claims that they engaged in illegal and improper marketing of anti-psychotic drugs in the U.S. are even now looking for new worlds to conquer. Consider the study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. It surveyed more than 60,000 adults in 11 countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America and concludes that the treatment needs for people with bipolar disorder are “often unmet, particularly in low-income countries.”

“That may indeed be true. But I’d find this result a lot more believable if the study were not funded in large part by the same pharmaceutical companies who make the atypical anti-psychotics used to treat bipolar disorder: Eli Lilly (which makes Zyprexa), Janssen (the unit of Johnson & Johnson that brought us Risperdal), Pfizer (Geodon), Bristol Myers Squibb (Abilify), GlaxoSmithKline (Lamictal), and Novartis (Fanapt).  Continue reading

Harvard cozies up with Big Pharma

It was like something out of the movie Michael Clayton – only with Big Pharma as the villain: a Pfizer drug rep sporting a severe black suit and taking cell phone pictures of students protesting Harvard Medical School’s ties to the drug industry. Staged last October, the Boston gathering was sparsely attended, with a few students holding signs and a petition delivered to an empty office (the dean was out of town).

But the photographer’s appearance was notable enough to merit a story in the New York Times, which eventually led to a U.S. Senate committee investigation.

And so it goes for Harvard Medical School, according to a report in Boston Magazine that reveals Harvard has actually been under increasingly intense scrutiny since 2008, when a series of incidents put a spotlight on the venerable university’s symbiotic –  if awkward –  relationship with drug companies.

The trouble started that summer, after Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, was found to have taken more than $1.6 million in payments (which he apparently failed to fully disclose to the school as required) from the maker of a major anti-psychotic drug he’d been prescribing.  Continue reading

NEJM editor: “No longer possible to believe much of clinical research published”

NEJM posterHarvard Medical School’s Dr. Marcia Angell is the author of The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It. But more to the point, she’s also the former Editor-in-Chief at the New England Journal of Medicine, arguably one of the most respected medical journals on earth. But after reading her article in the New York Review of Books called Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption, one wonders if any medical journal on earth is worth anybody’s respect anymore.

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”

Dr. Angell cites the case of Dr. Joseph L. Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. She explains:

“Thanks largely to him, children as young as two years old are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with a cocktail of powerful drugs, many of which were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that purpose, and none of which were approved for children below ten years of age.” Continue reading