Since federal researchers halted the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) hormone replacement therapy (HRT) study in 2002, three years early because the drugs were so dangerous, the sequence of events has played out almost like a joke.
Doctor: I have some bad news. The HRT pills you've been taking cause cancer, stroke, blood clots and heart disease.
Patient: What's the good news, Doctor?
Doctor: I'm dating the cute receptionist out there!
Doctor: The hormones I've been prescribing you cause breast cancer, ovarian cancer and gall bladder cancer.
Patient: I want a second opinion.
Doctor: Okay, they also cause heart attack, stroke, lupus, scleroderma, venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.*
Americans are used to pills that don't work. We know despite the anorexic in the ad, diet pills probably mean less than a two pound loss per month, equivalent to saying no to that scone.
We're used to pills with potential risks like aspirin's gastrointestinal bleeding and Tylenol's liver damage.
But a medicine that promises a 26 percent increased risk of breast cancer; a 29 percent increased risk of heart attack; a 41 percent increased risk of stroke, and a 100 percent increased risk of blood clots?**
You're not a patient; you're a lab animal.
Of course no one expected pharma to roll over and play dead after the HRT debacle. Maybe get to work on an antibiotic for MRSA. (Hello!) Not when they have a perfectly good drug that just needs a use--kind of like Thalidomide. Not when marketing is so much cheaper than R&D. Not when marketing to healthy people is the best marketing of all.
After all, prescriptions for Wyeth's Prempro plummeted 76 percent and Premarin, 47 percent when women quit HRT. Wyeth had to eliminate 15 percent of its drug sales representatives who call on primary care physicians and close its Rouses Point, N.Y., plant. You think they'll take that lying down?
And, Pfizer, maker of Provera? It hit its lowest stock price in a decade in 2005 thanks to Viagra, Celebrex and Betxra woes.
So maybe pharma is behind all the new "studies"--actually just new statistical analyses of the WHI findings--that claim the women studied were too old, too sick and, well, too, menopausal. They had uteruses; they didn't have uteruses; they only used estrogen; they only used progestin; HRT is still a miracle drug! (for someone.)
At least that's what Dr. Lewis Kuller, a co-author of the WHI study and professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health suggests about HRT loyalists.
"You should ask how much money they're getting from the drug industry to dispense these hormones," he said. "We hurt their business, frankly."+
Wyeth has even filed a complaint with the FDA asking it to take action against small pharmacies that make plant based "bioidentical" hormones which many women are beginning to prefer over Wyeth's mare urine compounds.
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