JUST SAY NO to antipsychotic drugs for toddlers

At 18 months, Kyle Warren started taking a daily antipsychotic drug on the orders of a pediatrician trying to quell the boy’s severe temper tantrums. The troubled toddler’s journey from one doctor to another, from one diagnosis to another (involving even more drugs for autism, bipolar disorder, hyperactivity, insomnia and oppositional defiant disorder) was shared recently in the New York Times. The boy’s daily pill regimen multiplied: the antipsychotic Risperdal, the antidepressant Prozac, two sleep drugs, and one for attention-deficit disorder.

And all by the time he was three years old.   Continue reading

Please, no more fridge magnets! Why companies spend all that money on useless corporate swag

I’ve picked up lots of corporate swag at conferences and trade shows during my PR days, but free ballpoint pens or cheap fridge magnets can hardly compete with the really good swag that other people seem to get.  Consider for example what was handed out to sports photographers covering the February Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver/Whistler this year: an eye-catching coffee travel mug shaped exactly like a 70-200mm Canon L-series lens. Now that’s a very cool and potentially useful Olympics souvenir to bring home.

Or how about the American Society of Clinical Oncology? The drug company Genentech gave out to each annual meeting attendee in Chicago a beautiful black leather case filled with a wireless mouse, a 1 GB thumb drive, a combination laser-pointer/infrared remote control PowerPoint slide advancer, and a four-outlet USB hub – each one engraved, of course, with the Genentech corporate logo.

Other drug companies use even more creative and arguably more sinister swag strategies: in the waiting rooms of child psychiatrists, for example, children play with giant Lego blocks prominently stamped with the word Risperdal, courtesy of the drug company Johnson & Johnson – who have now lost the patent on the antipsychotic drug and have stopped handing out these toys.

But few promotional gifts can compare with the $91,000 swag bags distributed to celebrities at the Academy Awards ceremonies in Hollywood this past March.   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

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

What if everybody started telling the truth about medical ghostwriting?

ghostwriter cartoon

Once upon a time, the drug giant Wyeth Pharmaceuticals wanted to get some medical journal articles published that would emphasize the positives and de-emphasize the negatives about their hormone replacement drugs, Premarin and Prempro. For the sake of clarity, let’s call this “lying”.

What’s a poor drug giant to do? How about getting well-known medical school professors and researchers to submit HRT-flattering articles to medical journals, pretending that they are the sole authors instead of the  medical ghostwriters you hired who actually wrote them?

And thus a brilliant marketing scam is hatched.   Continue reading