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How Big Pharma Gets You to Think a Drug is Safe

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(Article changed on April 11, 2013 at 09:44)

 

(part of TED lecture by Ben Goldacres, MD)

 

Where did the medical community get the idea that Vioxx, Trovan and Baycol were safe and the benefits of Prempro, Neurontin and bisphosphonates outweighed their risks? From research published in medical journals written by drug companies or drug-company funded authors.


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Scratch the surface of many blockbuster drugs that went on to be discredited, or even withdrawn as risks emerged, and an elaborate "publication plan" emerges, developed by the drug company's marketing firm. For example, at least 50 articles promoting hormone replacement drugs like Prempro were planted in medical journals by Pfizer's (then Wyeth) marketing firm DesignWrite, according to documents posted on the University of California, San Francisco's Drug Industry Document Archive.

 

"Is There an Association Between Hormone Replacement Therapy and Breast Cancer?" one such article in the Journal of Women's Health, planted by DesignWrite, is titled [i] --concluding that there is not. A second paper, supplied by DesignWrite and appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine , [ii] is titled "The Role of Hormone Replacement Therapy in the Prevention of Postmenopausal Heart Disease." A third, also from DesignWrite, in the Archives of Internal Medicine , is titled "The Role of Hormone Therapy in the Prevention of Alzheimer's disease." [iii] Though the marketing firm's "science" is egregiously flawed--HT has strong links to breast cancer, heart disease [iv] and Alzheimer's--the papers have not been retracted.

 

Another example is Parke-Davis/Pfizer's publication plan to make seizure drug Neurontin become the prescribed drug of choice for migraines, bipolar disorder and other conditions for which it was not approved. In just three years, Parke-Davis planted 13 ghostwritten articles in medical journals promoting off-label uses for Neurontin including a supplement to the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine that Parke-Davis made into 43,000 reprints for its reps to disseminate.

 

Researching, writing and submitting papers to medical journals--and reworking and finessing them if accepted--is a demanding, time consuming job which drug companies have made into pay dirt. Court obtained documents at the UCSF Drug Industry Document Archive show drug companies' "publication plans" for their products--elaborate grids with the names of journals where papers have run, are slated to run, have been submitted and have been resubmitted, the marketing firms apparently not taking "no" for answer. Do the journals know they are part of such machinations?

 

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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