The Marriage of Medicine, Mother Pharma and Uncle Sam....
But an article in today's NY Times, "Doctor's Ties to Drug Makers are Put on Close View" points out how far these relationships have gone. The amount these doctors that speak on behalf of the sponsoring drug company's products may receive over several years can be as high as the hundreds of thousands. The amount is even higher if the doctor is performing research that could benefit the drug company. The article used the example of Dr. Allan Collins, President of the National Kidney Foundation who had received honorariums from Amgen anywhere between $10 - 20,000. However, the interesting thing is he denies receiving more money in an email, stating that a "contract amount of $1.9 million from Amgen was paid to the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation (MMRF) for the research contract, on which I am the designated senior researcher." Maybe I'm wrong, but last I checked a senior researcher receives a stipend from his or her research grants. So indirectly, he did receive an unaccounted sum from Amgen. Whoever thinks that may not influence prescribing patterns is deluding themselves. Studies have shown that doctors that have relationships with the drug makers tend to prescribe the newer, pricier drugs they are pushing. Well, don't expect big pharma to be pushing the older, generic and cheaper drugs, of course, because they might be in the best interests of controlling rising healthcare costs. That's not where the money is made. So the interests of the population are mixed with the interests of big pharma under the disguise of a respected physician expert in the field. It's the shrewdest game of deception. Other doctors go to these pharma sponsored dinners to hear an "expert" who is being paid by that very same drug company to give the lecture. Would the drug company pay a physician to get up and speak against its drug? It's the big bad wolf in Grandma's clothes, except the wolf has convinced someone else to dress up like grandma that actually looks like grandma.
An article in the NY Times immediately followed today's article on deceptive pharm influence with the title, "FDA rule limits role of Advisors Tied to Industry." This seems to be an important step in the right direction because for the first time experts that have received money from drug or device makers would not be allowed to vote in the advisory committee hearings that decide on the approval of new products. On the surface this sounds good, but they've allowed a loophole, of course, with any doctor that has received less than $50,000 (a sizeable amount in my books) in the prior year still allowed to participate in these committee hearings. Well, why allow ANY amount at all. In my opinion, if there's money in the game, influence is being exchanged under the table.
Dr. Lutter, FDA acting deputy commissioner, stated, '"The $50,000 threshold is something that we think strikes an appropriate balance between' getting smart advisers and reassuring the public that their advice is not tainted." Well that's a bunch of hogwash! Maybe what he's really saying is that all of the smart advisors have already been infiltrated by the drug industry. Is there no stone unturned? Needlesstosay, I remain skeptical. Why aren't they jumping to make the panels that come up with national treatment guidelines devoid of pharmaceutical influence?
Let's call a spade a spade. If national treatment guidelines are produced by a panel of experts, the majority of which have received money from the drug companies, don't call them "Expert Treatment Guidelines," call them "Grandma's Suggestions on what Drugs to Take to Stay Young and Keep up the Drug Company's Record Profits."