I was relieved to see on a CBC News report that somebody’s finally calling a spade a spade when it comes to medical school academics who pretend to be the actual authors of research papers about prescription drugs. Two Canadian law professors interviewed for the piece actually used the word “fraud”. They then called for legal sanctions against any academics who lend their names to medical journal articles that are actually ghostwritten by pharmaceutical industry writers. Here’s what their report had to say on this: Continue reading
I’ve been writing about (and against) medical ghostwriting since I first learned about this Big Pharma marketing practice. In fact, my gobsmacked reaction to this very subject is largely why the Ethical Nag site was launched in the first place. I had just learned about lawsuits* filed in the U.S. by thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer – a diagnosis suspiciously linked to their hormone replacement therapy (HRT). And recently the journal Public Library of Science Medicine (who with the New York Times originally broke the story) published an unprecedented analysis of the issue that caused the link.
The poster child of medical ghostwriting is Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. (now owned by Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company) who were then the makers of the best-selling HRT drugs on earth, Premarin and Prempro.
Wyeth’s ghostwritten medical journal articles attempted to:
- mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with HRT
- defend the unsupported cardiovascular “benefits” of HRT
- promote off-label, unproven uses of HRT such as the prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vision problems, and wrinkles.
But first, what exactly is medical ghostwriting? And why is it so bad? Continue reading
Although Jeanne Lenzer’s article about stealth marketing in Reporting On Health is actually meant for other journalists, it reminds me that we consumers should all be more savvy when it comes to evaluating medical news. Before my own heart attack, for example, I pretty well swallowed any medical miracle breakthrough news without question.
But because I now take a fistful of powerful cardiac medications everyday, I have become gradually both aware of and alarmed by Big Pharma marketing, and especially about what Dr. Marcia Angell herself (for over 20 years the Editor-in-Chief at the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine) calls “… its pervasive conflicts of interest that corrupt the medical profession.”
In fact, I have absolutely no way of knowing which of my cardiac meds were prescribed for me based on flawed research or tainted medical journal articles that were funded and ghostwritten by the very drug companies who stand to gain by paying for positive outcomes. And, worse, neither do my doctors. This is allowed to happen in part because of what we now know as “stealth marketing“.
I’ve often said to my hockey-mad son Ben that we could end on-ice fighting in hockey (not, incidentally, our national sport, but arguably our Canadian obsession) if only the National Hockey League would put me in charge for just one week. But the folks who do run the NHL clearly have no appetite for banning hockey fighting, or they would have acted to end it by now.
Despite their feeble protests about the unacceptability of fighting and the known dangers of career-ending concussions, team owners tolerate cheap shots by beefy goons who spear, hit, and drop their gloves to fight. The League accepts it, the owners accept it, the players accept it, and the fans apparently love it.
There is, alas, no organizational will to ban violence on the ice.
And much like hockey goons, medical journal editors could end the appallingly unethical and dangerous practice of medical ghostwriting in one week, but these editors clearly have no appetite for banning ghostwriting in their journals, or they would have acted to end it by now.
There is, alas, no organizational will to ban medical ghostwriting. Continue reading
Drug giant Merck & Co. is paying the families of more than 3,100 Vioxx painkiller users who died of heart attacks and strokes that were blamed on the drug. Merck introduced Vioxx in 1999 but withdrew it from the market in 2004 when a study showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. By 2007, Merck had set up a fund of $4.85 billion (yes, that’s billion with a ‘B’) to cover claims of death and lesser injuries, after reserving $1.9 billion to fight over 26,600 Vioxx lawsuits in court. Houston attorney Mark Lanier observed at the time:
“We don’t know any drug right now with this number of deaths associated with it. This is a very sad chapter in the tragedy of pharmaceutical companies gone wild.”
And – quelle surprise! – Vioxx turns out to be one of countless prescription drugs that have been fraudulently promoted in industry-funded ghostwritten articles in medical journals. Continue reading
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more slimy in the wonderful world of Big Pharma-funded medical journal articles, along comes last week’s editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Their September 9th editorial claims that somewhere between 50% and 100% of articles on drugs that appear in journals are ghostwritten, according to Dr. David Healy, a psychiatrist at the University of Cardiff in Wales and a critic of the drug industry’s influence on physicians’ drug prescribing habits. Dr. Healy further claims:
“Ghostwriting ‘crept up on’ the medical profession and became so common by the mid-90s that even senior researchers came to accept it as an ethical practice. Other critics of the practice agree, claiming that many researchers will put their name on a document as primary author even if they just edited it — or only read it and made no changes.
“If you have people like me who say they won’t do this, the pharmaceutical industry can easily go elsewhere and find a person who will.” Continue reading