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Who Says These Drugs Are Safe? Big Pharma

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What stands in between Big Pharma's desire for blockbuster drug sales and drug safety? In addition to the FDA, it is often medical journal editors who see, evaluate and publish early research. But a quick look at drugs or drug uses which later turned out to be risky shows a disturbing trail of undisclosed "bought" science in major medical journals.

Vioxx

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Awareness of "bought" science crystalized after Vioxx, a pain drug advertised by Dorothy Hamill, the former Bruce Jenner and other celebrities eventually linked to more than 27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths. The drug was pulled from the market in 2004. Much of Vioxx's perceived safety stemmed from an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 2001 that downplayed its actual heart risks. When the enormity of the dupe became apparent, Jeffrey Drazen, then the NEJM editor, said the authors of the article, who included Merck employees, had deliberately buried data. Why would paid employees of a for-profit drug company do that? "This was an episode where it was clear people had taken data and not reported it fully," said Drazen.

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SSRI Antidepressants

Soon after the Vioxx revelation, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) began to have its own scandals. Doctor authors who had defended the use of antidepressants during pregnancy in a 2006 JAMA article had ties to antidepressant manufacturers. Oops. Lee Cohen, lead author of the antidepressants study, declared in a follow-up letter to JAMA that "We did not view those associations as relevant to this study," and listed 76 other financial relationships the nine physician authors had with Pharma.

Three years later another JAMA author was found to have undisclosed financial links to SSRI makers. Robert Robinson, who wrote about the drug Lexapro, had failed to report lecture fees he had received from its manufacturer.

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The SSRI Paxil also benefitted from Pharma money. Martin Keller, former Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Brown and lead author of a now discredited Paxil study, admitted that GSK had given him tens of thousands of dollars during and after the study.

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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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