COMMENTARY:

Docs and the Drugs They Push

The problem is horrendous.

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Hopefully the Sunshine Act, which is part of health reform legislation, and which requires drug companies to disclose who they buy research from and for how much, will help put a stop to doctors as drug salesmen.

As I wrote earlier in the week, members of the medical profession are moaning and groaning about how once again they are taking an unfair beating at the hands of the mad socialists in Washington. For years now docs have been acting as salesmen for drug companies, in some cases, working with the drugsters to outmanuever FDA regulations–not that it’s very difficult to outmanuever that regulatory body which has become little more than an industry pr shop.

Hopefully the Sunshine Act, which is part of health reform legislation, and which requires drug companies to disclose who they buy research from and for how much, will help put a stop to doctors as drug salesmen. The problem is horrendous. On March 14, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a lengthy detailed account of the relationship between Wisconsin doctors and the drug industry. It is well worth reading in full. Here are a few bits:

When looking for a doctor to travel the country and tout its costly prescription fish oil pill, GlaxoSmithKline didn’t select a heavyweight university researcher.

Instead, it wrote checks to Tara Dall, a Delafield primary-care doctor who entered private practice in 2001.

For just three months of speaking engagements last year, GlaxoSmithKline paid Dall $45,000, ranking her among the most highly paid of more than 3,600 doctors nationwide who spoke for the company, which released records for only one quarter of the year.....

Dall hedged when asked in an interview if she fully disclosed her financial relationship with GlaxoSmithKline to all the patients for whom she prescribes the company’s high-priced fish oil product, known as Lovaza.

“I think I would (disclose) if I was going to do anything off-label,” she said. “Whether I tell every single patient, I’m not sure.”

The next day she called back and made a short statement, but hung up without answering questions.

“It is absolutely disclosed to patients that I am a speaker and that I speak for pharmaceutical companies, and it is listed on my Web site,” she said.....

The story describes the cozy dealings between companies and docs, citing other cases, before returning to Dall:

According to her résumé, Dall does talks for five other drug and medical companies in addition to GlaxoSmithKline as well as community talks, including an unpaid speech on heart disease she gave to General Electric Co. employees in Wisconsin last August.

There, she made an eyebrow-raising statement about heart disease.

“As soon as we identify what puts you at risk, we can absolutely fix it,” Dall assured them in the talk, a video of which is posted on her Web site. “We can totally prevent cardiovascular disease from happening. We can completely trump genetics.”

That’s wrong, according to Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and Raymond Gibbons, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

At best, cholesterol-controlling statin drugs reduce heart attacks and strokes by about one-third, Nissen said.

“We cannot trump genetics,” Nissen said. “If she was right, we could wipe this disease out just by giving drugs to people. Even if we put statins in the water supply, cardiovascular disease would still be the leading cause of death.”


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found at JamesRidgeway.net and at his newest web site, Solitary Watch.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on March 31, 2010.