Health Science – Drug cheerleaders have succeeded in getting a majority of Americans on drugs. While you might think that your local street drug dealer is dangerous, did you know that many pharmaceutical representatives do the same thing? In fact, they have the blessing of operating legally, yet they are partly responsible for killing millions. Some of those drugs do more harm than good, even resulting in killing the patient. Unsuspecting patients are being overprescribed dangerous medications. Are you one of them?
Too Many Prescriptions
A majority of Americans are on drugs. According to a Mayo Clinic report in 2013, at least 70% of Americans are on some kind of prescription drug. Prescription drug use continues to rise dramatically over the past few decades. Over 3.9 billion prescriptions were filled at American pharmacies in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Not only is America experiencing an overprescription epidemic, there’s also a prescription abuse epidemic. The National Institutes of Health says, as of 2011, 52 million over the age of 12 have used a prescription that was not prescribed to them. Prescription drugs now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined as of 2012, according to the Pew Health Group.
Doctors are putting people on too many unnecessary drugs – a result of a firm, unethical, and sometimes illegal, push from pharmaceutical marketing campaigns. Have you ever noticed the ever-increasing drug commercials that advertise a pill for everything you have? There’s an excellent example of how this might happen to the typical patient in a recent Washington Post article. You might be talking to your doctor about stomach pain when you’re asked about sleeping habits. Maybe you answer that you have some trouble sleeping. The doctor suddenly says, “there’s a pill for that too.” Before you know it, you leave with multiple prescriptions. Rest assure that they each have side effects that were probably not discussed. You might find out the hard way, if you’re not informed.
They Want You on Drugs
Big pharmaceutical companies want as many people as possible on drugs, at least that’s what their behavior and all of the lawsuits suggest they want to accomplish. You might be the next unsuspecting patient to experience the domino effect drugs have on your life. Your doctor might be showered by drug companies, given cash, luxury vacations, massages, and other gifts, in exchange for pushing potentially dangerous and unnecessary medications on you. The lengths that drug companies will go to in order to accomplish this might astonish you.
Outrageous & Unethical
In 2010, a lawsuit against Pfizer highlighted the big pharmaceutical company’s ways of enticing doctors into pushing their drugs on patients. Pfizer bought 5,000 doctors expensive trips to Caribbean resorts and gave them $2,000 in honoraria, including golf games and massages, in exchange for pushing the drug “Bextra.” This was another drug used off-label. Ironically, just like many other drugs, it was too dangerous and was later removed off of the market because it caused heart problems. Doesn’t that seem like a pattern? Push a dangerous drug out, overprescribe it, and then wait for the wrongful death lawsuits (remove it when enough people die from it). Patients were also told there were no serious side effects in this case, which was dead wrong.
In 2012, the pharmaceutical monster GlaxoSmithKline plead guilty to one of the largest cases of healthcare fraud in U.S. history. They agreed to pay $3 billion for purposely misleading people about the safety and use of Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Avandia. They also unlawfully promoted Paxil for patients under 18 without FDA approval, which had disastrous results on unsuspecting patients and their families. The federal government says the company purposely published and distributing a misleading science journal article, sponsored dinners, spas, and other activities to promote their drugs. Fortunately, something good came out of this – black box labels. Companies now have to list some serious side effects on the side of drug boxes.
In 2011, the LA Times also reported on California regulators taking aim at drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., going into detail about how they were bribing doctors and pharmacists to push their drugs by offering thousands of kickbacks, such as gifts, happy hours, autographs, tickets, and special parties with the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2007, Bristol-Myers paid $515 for medical fraud and similar circumstances.
In China, the Guardian reported that GlaxoSmithKline became involved in bribing international doctors, offering cash and sexual favors, in exchange for promoting their drugs, according to 2013 legal documents.
A Tampa Bay Times article from 2009 highlighted just how much money some drug companies spend on serenading doctors – sometimes $100,000 on a single doctor. Drug companies are willing to shower doctors with gifts and cash to get them to push their drugs to patients. Pharmaceutical companies are sold all kinds of information (that patients think is private), including everything you’ve ever been prescribed.
Eli Lilly, another drug company, is also apparently showering professors with cash, the Tampa Bay Times also reports. The University of Florida’s College of Medicine, Dr. Maria-Carmen Wilson, a neurologist, was on the payroll of Lilly with an annual salary of $54,000, apart from her $195,000 salary at USF. This is just one example of pharma companies buying off doctors to influence other doctors and patients.
Drug marketing representatives are often young, hot, and wear sexy clothes to lure clients into buying and distributing their drugs. In 2005, The New York Times reported that even cheerleaders were being hired to pimp drugs. Pharmaceutical companies often shower a doctor’s office with free food, gifts, and even buy vacations, in exchange for pushing their medications on patients. It goes beyond simple marketing and business models – we’re talking about life and death.
What happens when you buy off all of the top doctors, schools, professors, and get published into the science journals? Who can speak out against you?
Purposely Overprescribing Dangerous Medications
Even if a patient didn’t have a need for the prescription, the attitude was you would prescribe the medication anyways. In fact, there’s been a huge move to start giving patients medications that were never intended to be used for their conditions, called off-label use. Many of these drugs put innocent patients in unnecessary danger, hurting them with terrible side effects, sometimes, killing them.
Seroquel is an example of a drug that was pushed for off-label use. Quetiapine (generic drug name) is an antipsychotic used to treat mental illnesses. However, like many out of control pharmaceutical companies, sales representatives showered doctors with gifts to get them to prescribe the medication for things it was never intended to be used for. Some describe the way it was prescribed as if it was handed out like candy – for anything and everything. A lawsuit detailed that the company purposely pushed the dangerous drug for unapproved uses and also didn’t disclose its side effects to doctors or patients. In April 2010, AstraZeneca paid $520 million to settle the federal government lawsuit. Seroquel alone has been associated with over 25,000 product liability lawsuits, including federal actions against the company.
Junk Science Journal Entries
Unfortunately, scientists and doctors must always be on the lookout for those falsified or misleading pieces that make it into official journals. Our journals are some of the most respected sources of facts. Many professionals make decisions based off of what the journals say. Pharmaceutical companies know this and try to use the tactics of ghost writing. This is the process of paying someone else with credentials to write what you want under their name (so it doesn’t look too obvious). Sometimes, these actually get published and make the drug look like a miracle cure. It’s just another marketing attempt to inject sales techniques into real science.
The Huffington Post did a great write-up about how Pfizer tried to trick doctors into thinking there was a supporting journal article that proved the efficacy of their drugs. Check out this example and this one. It’s unbelievable that such material ever was accepted. It’s also a warning that all scientists must be on the lookout and never immediately accept the claims of any journal article, without proper analysis and independent confirmation.
A recent 2015 Reuters report also details doctors and researchers purposely not reporting negative side effects of drugs. Such behavior often results in drugs being distributed that would otherwise not be prescribed. Patients are the losers because they may experience terrible side effects and possibly death.
Money or Health?
You have to wonder about motives. If a majority of your effort is on marketing instead of factual research, what does that tell you? The Washington Post reported on how many pharmaceutical companies are spending more on marketing than research. For example, Johnson & Johnson spent $17.5 billion on marketing in 2013, compared to $8.2 billion for research.
All drugs have side effects. In some cases, people take these drugs and experience serious problems. It becomes a domino effect after that, sometimes resulting in death. Ever noticed the wrongful death lawsuit commercials? There’s a reason why those exist. One drug causes side effects and another is then used to cover those side effects. If people are not careful, they could find themselves on an astonishing number of dangerous drugs. The longer you’re on these drugs, the worse the dangers are, especially withdrawal issues. People often forget that even over the counter drugs can change your body chemistry.
Conspiracy Theory vs. Fact
It’s a fact that some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies are more of a threat than your local street drug dealer will ever be. The real drug war is happening legally. Not all doctors are bad, but it’s unethical for a medical doctor to prescribe medications simply because of a marketing effort or quota (which is the case in the referenced examples above). An ethical medical doctor operates in the patient’s best interest, making evidence-based decisions, only prescribing medications that are needed, and ensuring that prescriptions do more good than harm – not the other way around.
It’s also ironic that a heated marijuana debate exists, while overprescription is ignored. There’s no comparison of direct evidence of harm as those caused by prescription medications. Prescription medications and alcohol abuse are far more dangerous to humans than marijuana. Given the behavior of the pharmaceutical industry to push such unnecessary overprescription of knowingly dangerous drugs, purposely misleading doctors and patients, and the marketing campaigns to do this, you would figure people would be outraged about it. Prescription drugs should be a more important topic than marijuana use.
The decision to prescribe a medication should be based upon proven medical science and expertise, not the advice of a drug cheerleading sales representative or popular public opinion. It’s alarming that some ex-salesman report cases of doctors asking the drug sales representative (with absolutely no medical degree, training, or certification) about how much of a drug should be prescribed to a patient (see video).
There are countless previous and pending lawsuits against companies that push dangerous unnecessary drugs on unsuspecting patients. Some people experience terrible side effects and others may even die. Patients have to keep an eye out for these kind of practices. Drugs should be a last resort, not a first option. Medical science is a great benefit to the people – when it’s done correctly.
Tips for Patients
Ask your doctor questions. Research the medications a doctor suggests before you take them from reputable sites. Be aware that the manufacturer may not clearly state facts about their drugs – see a reputable third party site. It’s your body and you have the right to know what you’re taking. If a doctor ever tells you that a prescription drug has no side effects – it’s not accurate. If you feel your doctor may be getting showered by drug sales representatives and is pressuring you to try the “latest and greatest” drugs, you might want to get a second opinion or find a better doctor. Ask yourself, am I taking too many medications? Do I need this?
Medical science has given us so many positive resources, but it also presents opportunity for those that have questionable motives. Not all doctors are bad, but the overprescription and off-label drug prescription industry is out of control. There are way too many doctors behaving this way. It also takes an honest patient to turn down unnecessary drugs. It’s best to be cautious about taking drugs, but never hesitate when you’re taking the right drugs for the right reasons. There’s simply more money in having people on as many drugs as possible and keeping customers coming back to the medical system for constant care, instead of cure or prevention. Consumers must make informed decisions, especially when it comes to finding the right doctor for healthcare.
Has your health professional received drug company money? This is a free search tool to see if your doctor is accepting money from pharmaceutical companies. URL: http://projects.propublica.org/docdollars/
Legal Bit: Because this is the United States, we’re crazy about lawsuits and liability. Therefore, for those that cannot use common sense, we have to provide this disclaimer: This article was provided for educational and information purposes and is not intended to be used for medical advice. Consult a physician about your condition or medications. Some of these medications are so dangerous that you cannot just stop taking them. Do not start, discontinue or modify any prescription medication use without first consulting your doctor.