(SNN) - Have the pharmaceutical companies pushed traditional medicine over the cliff? Or, is medicine teetering at the edge? Dr. David Healy’s provocative book, Pharmageddon, argues that big pharmaceutical companies are pushing traditional medicine aside for big profits at the expense of patients’ health. According to Healy, the increase in adverse side effects of the new blockbuster drugs manufactured by Big Pharma is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and Europe. Sales of such drugs like Prozac, Abilify, and Vioxx, rake in billions of dollars.
Dr. Healy, a Professor of Psychiatry at Cardiff University in Britain, writes that there is a global epidemic of certain diseases, such as bipolar disorder and female sexual dysfunction, due to the making and marketing of drugs he terms “lifestyle” drugs. He argues that Western medicine is now more about managing risks than curing disease. It isn’t in the best interest of the big drug companies to cure disease and stop treatment, but rather to manage the risks with the potential for ongoing treatment and continued drug sales.
Healy blames Big Pharma for the shift from traditional medicine (treatment according to physician knowledge of the patient and what the trained medical eye observes) to treating the risks and not the patient. Healy claims this shift is made possible by change in patent laws (giving companies a 20 year monopoly); the status of new drugs being designated as prescription-only; and pharmaceutical industry control of drug evaluation trials, which result in drugs being approved based on the companies’ version of evidence-based medicine. According to Healy, data from the company-controlled trials are suspicious or incomplete.
Healy goes further to explain how medicine has also been corrupted by the employment of medical ghostwriters who write articles that deal with pharmaceuticals without much knowledge of what went on in the drug trial process; the concealment of conflicts of interest, such as the revolving door between the U.S. Federal Drug Administration and pharmaceutical company personnel; the obstruction of knowledge about drug hazards; and the marketing of diseases to market the drugs for managing the disease.
What can be done to pull healthcare back from the death grip of the pharmaceutical industry? Healy points out that legal action is rarely taken outside the United States because of universal health care in other countries. It is time for the medical community to take action and for health consumers to fight back. If we take Healy’s advice, we need to decide what kind of economy we want and what kind of society in which we want to live. We need to look critically at how Big Pharma hides the raw data behind clinical trials, and question the practice of making new drugs available only through prescriptions; and we should demand change in the current patent arrangement for drugs. We need to find out why current regulations on the pharmaceutical industry are not working.
Healy is one of the founders of a free web site, RxISK, designed for patients, doctors, and pharmacists to research and report drug side effects to identify problems and possible solutions. The site is not sponsored by pharmaceutical companies or supported by advertising. A visit to the site may be well worth the readers’ time.
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