The racket that is Big Pharma

Sunday, September 30, 2012 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: Big Pharma, racket, prescription drugs

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(NaturalNews) Do you know anyone taking prescription drugs regularly? The odds are great you do, and what's more, they probably aren't taking just one. They are probably also taking drugs they don't need - and that could even be negatively impacting their health - because their doctors are too quick to fall under the influence of Big Pharma's aggressive drug sales reps.

Consider this amazing statistics: almost half of the U.S. population are currently diagnosed with a chronic condition and 40 percent of people older than 60 taking five or more medications. Is it really possible that many people have illnesses that need to be treated with multiple drugs?

This question obviously raises issues about the nature of the relationship between the expanding definition of chronic illness and the explosion in prescription drug use in the U.S. - issues Michigan State University anthropologist Linda M. Hunt, Ph.D. decided to research. Her findings, just published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, are another indictment of Big Pharma's relentless, greedy drive to have as many people as possible on prescription drugs.

Dr. Hunt decided to look into the dramatic increase in the diagnosis and use of prescription drugs to treat common, chronic illnesses. She specifically looked at two conditions that can often be relieved, and even cured, with lifestyle changes -- type 2 diabetes and hypertension -- that were treated in 44 primary care clinics in Michigan.

Her research team interviewed 58 clinicians and 70 of their patients, and observed 107 clinical consultations to assess the doctors' treatment strategies and the factors influencing their treatment decisions. They found that doctors usually prescribed at least two or more drugs per condition. More than half of the patients studied were taking five or more drugs and interviews with these people showed their heavy reliance on medications, challenged their well-being - specifically because of the financial cost of the drugs and because of adverse effects on their health caused by the medication. What's more, when patients went to see their doctors, their office visits were mostly spent talking about drugs and managing drug taking (not healthy lifestyle changes).

So why are so many people taking so many drugs? The new study concludes more drugs are prescribed because the threshold that constitutes an "illness" keeps getting lower and lower. In other words, people who were deemed healthy and/or normal are now diagnosed with chronic conditions including having a "pre" sickness that needs prescription, side effect laden drugs to supposedly halt a future sickness from happening.

For example, what was once normal blood pressure is now too high or, if approaching high, is called "pre-hypertension" and Big Pharma recommends treatment. And instead of telling someone with high blood sugar to lose weight and exercise, it's likely a doctor will pronounce that person to have type 2 diabetes and needs medication for life.

Dr. Hunt points out in her study that physicians are caught up in an "auditing and reward system." That means doctors are rewarded by drug companies for prescribing more and more drugs. Perhaps most disturbing, there's what Hunt calls a "prescribing cascade." Simply put, drugs are prescribed to help relieve side effects caused by other drugs. Then other drugs can be prescribed to relieve any new side effects from the newly prescribed drugs.

Bottom line: pharmaceutical marketing efforts appear to be largely responsible for all of these observed trends. To reverse and limit the influence of the Big Pharma on clinical practice, Dr. Hunt and her team recommends the following:

- Policies are needed to exclude individuals or organizations with financial conflicts of interest from involvement with clinical guideline-writing panels.
- Doctors should be discouraged from seeing drug representatives.
- Monitoring of doctor auditing and reward plans must be put in place to search for evidence of unintended negative effects on patients.

Another study also just published in BMJ by Harvard researchers shows the huge economic impact of the massive prescribing of often unneeded, even dangerous drugs on the populace. They found business executives are unaware they can be wasting billions of their gross profits on ineffective, even harmful drugs in their health plans -- and they are also paying for treating the side effects of these drugs, as well as overpaying for new drugs with few advantages to offset risks of harm caused by the prescription medications. The researchers also point out that any real effect to look for harmful side effects is minimal when new drugs are approved as "safe" by the FDA and then strongly hyped to doctors who push the meds on patients. What's more, only 10 to15 percent of new drugs are clinically superior to older, less expensive medications according to independent review bodies.



About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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