Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big Pharma

Today the Sunday NY Times had an article about "big pharma" which creates a drug for everything, be it a disorder, disease, or delusion. The picture is of benzodiazopines [psychotropic drugs]. I have strong feeling about big pharma because in my former job when I transcribed many meetings and events held by the advertising agencies which promoted the products of big pharma, I developed many strong feelings about just how they operate and bend our minds.

Today's article in the Times business section was especially about a "Viagra for women" but covered a lot of other territory. I was especially stunned by a picture of a woman in an ad who said that she had been using Prempro for 16 [yes, 16!] years to control the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes. Has any woman ever experienced hot flashes for 16 years?

The average American consumer cannot have sufficient information to understand how he or she -- and the doctors who "treat" them -- are influenced by advertising. I vividly remember the day a cardiologist wrote a prescription for Lipitor for me because I had a somewhat obstructed left ventricle. I told him that a week earlier I had transcribed [in my job where I transcribed all kinds of meetings] a talk by one of the Nobel prize winners who invented statins, the drug category of which Lipitor was then [maybe still is] the biggest seller. This brilliant scientist, by then retired and an aging [therefore not entirely esteemed] figure, said that he had been working for years to figure out why statins seem to help only 17% of the people who take them. 17%, it seemed to me, was a VERY low percentage. But my cardiologist said, "Well, we'll hope you're in the 17%." He did not believe me nor the Great Man, he believed the propaganda of Big Pharma and the guidelines of the American Heart Association which, in turn, believed Big Pharma.

My point is that although I knew the point of taking that drug was not necessarily good medicine [I do not now take Lipitor!] it was pushed at me. This is only one example of many hundreds -- like that unquestioning woman who has somehow thought she needed something to help with hot flashes for 16 years -- something, by the way, that has been shown to contribute to breast cancer in many women.

How can we be smart enough and informed enough to understand what we might be putting into and doing to our bodies? Most of us would rather live our every day life than even think about the question, let alone do the research to learn even a little bit about it. We want to trust the experts. But many of the experts mainly want to sell a product and the doctors want not to be sued for malpractice because they didn't prescribe something that "might" be helpful. This is an ongoing rant of mine. I try not to give in to my cynicism and anger -- but then I read an article that doesn't even bother to point out that 16 years is a ridiculous amount of time to take a drug for a symptom that few experience for more than a year or two.


standing on my head said...

hi, i'm new to your blog, found by way of kass. and boy did this post strike a chord!
i worked in the medical field for many years. the drive to medicalize every human function, starting with childbirth (ooooh, don't get me started on that one!), and to do so with insufficient knowledge of the effects, makes me froth at the mouth. i give western medicine full props for catastrophic care.
prevention, and daily maintenance, um, no. why in the world do we relinquish responsibility for our health so readily? grrrr.
sorry to rant on a first post-kind of!

Garlandless Judy said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I find this article and standing's comment very interesting.

Ladydy5 aka: Diane Yates said...

I have a friend who has been taking that drug now for 10 years and won't give it up because she feels good and afraid she won't.
Give it a break I tell her. Won't listen so be it.