Does the medical profession need to wean itself from its “pervasive dependence” on Big Pharma money?

Judges do not hear cases in which they have a financial interest. Reporters do not write stories about companies in which they have a financial interest. By the same token, doctors should not have a financial interest in treatments they are evaluating, or accept gifts from the makers of drugs they prescribe.” 

That’s what Dr. Marcia Angell says, and she ought to know.  She spent over 20 years as editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. She wrote these words last January in a letter to Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the American Psychiatric Association in response to Stotland’s criticisms of her essay in the New York Review of Books.

Back then, the editorial board at the New York Times had decreed:

“The medical profession needs to wean itself almost entirely from its pervasive dependence on industry money.”

Dr. Angell agreed with the Times, adding:

“Pervasive conflicts of interest corrupt the medical profession, not in a criminal sense, but in the sense of undermining the impartiality that is essential both to medical research and clinical practice.” 

Dr. Angell disagreed strongly with psychiatrist Dr. Stotland’s assertion that very few drugs of any kind have been tested on children. Not so, claims Dr. Angell.  Continue reading

“Pay for Delay”- how off-patent brand name drugs fight off generics

Drug companies are acutely aware of what’s called the ‘patent cliff’, when their expensive brand name medications lose their patent protection, thus opening up the market for cheaper, identical generic competition. This is good news for consumers, but very bad news for Big Pharma. Lipitor*, for example, Pfizer’s blockbuster cholesterol medication, is set to fall off the patent cliff in 2011.

But even last year’s sales of the biggest selling drug on the planet already showed declines due to growing competition from other cholesterol drug manufacturers.  See also: Is Big Pharma Onboard the Titanic? Continue reading

Johnson & Johnson: “Welcome to your nursing home nightmare!”

When I visit my friend Ruth in her nursing home, I have to walk down a long corridor to get to her room. Along one wall of the long corridor sits a large aquarium. In front of the large aquarium, wheelchairs are lined up every day, eight or nine in a row facing the fish, their occupants slumped in semi-conscious stupor, rheumy eyes half-closed or glazed, with none of them paying any attention to the fish. It is distressing to me, this row of seniors. It reminds me that every one of them was once young and healthy.

They had families and careers and a social life.  And now here they are, lined up in front of an aquarium they do not see.

It also reminds me that this fate in front of the fish may well await me  – and you – one day, too, especially if drug companies like Eli Lilly or Johnson & Johnson have their way dispensing their anti-psychotic crowd control drugs to the frail elderly.

But these anti-psychotic drugs can raise the risk of death in dementia cases and are not approved to treat this, although that hasn’t stopped J&J from offering kickbacks in exchange for pushing its anti-psychotic, Risperdal.

According to a government news release, J&J paid kickbacks to a big nursing home pharmacy company, Omnicare, to get the company to prescribe more of its drugs, including Risperdal. And this is not the first time. Last year, Omnicare paid $98 million to settle allegations that it had solicited and received kickbacks from J&J in exchange for recommending Risperdal.  Some people just don’t get it.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in the news release:

“Kickbacks in the nursing home pharmacy context are particularly nefarious because they can result in excessive prescribing of strong drugs to patients who have little or no control over the medical care they are receiving. Pharmacists’ recommendations should not be a product of money that a drug company is paying to the pharmacy.”  Continue reading