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Former Shill for Big Pharma Tells the Truth About Drug Testing

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by: Heidi Stevenson
Tags: Big Pharma, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Erick Turner, a psychiatry professor at the Oregon State Health and Sciences University, woke up one day and realized that he was acting as a shill for pharmaceutical corporations. Worse, he was promoting drugs that not only provide very little benefit, but also do great harm. In spite of the benefits paid to him, including accommodations and thousands of dollars, and the ego satisfaction of being recognized as a "Very Important Person" by his fellow physicians, his conscience wouldn't let him continue.

So, Dr. Turner turned on his pharmaceutical masters. He spoke out against the products he'd been promoting. In the January 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, he published an article telling the truth about one class of drugs, SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac and Paxil. In interviews, he has spoken even more broadly, stating that the lack of efficacy of SSRIs is the "dirty little secret" of the psychiatric world.

Dr. Turner's odyssey began in 2004, when he started selling his reputation by giving "doctor talks", as they're called in the industry. These lunches or dinners are lavish affairs, provided by pharmaceutical corporations. A doctor who is appealing, for either his or her background or appearance and style -- preferably both -- speaks about the wonders of a particular drug. Erick Turner's particular appeal was having been a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health for seven years, and then a clinical trials reviewer at the FDA.

He was trained by Eli Lilly to give talks, which required that he use only the visuals provided by the pharmaceutical firm and stay with their talking points. Then, Turner was sent to do doctor talks. The money he made wasn't significant to him, $500-750 per talk, a small amount in terms of his total income. However, as he put it, "In the beginning, I think I got narcissistic gratification. They fly you somewhere else in the country and pick you up in a limo, and you stay in a nice hotel you could never afford otherwise."

Within 18 months, though, Turner began to feel pangs of conscience. As he put it, "I guess you could say I bit the hand that fed." He published a paper in PloS Medicine that argued for online publication of all clinical trials produced for the FDA. Although he went from drug company advocate to critic overnight with his argument against pharmaceutical hiding of data, the article was... well, it was ignored. His article was met with a big yawn in the medical world.

Turner quit giving the doctor talks and started to search for hidden drug trial data. At first, he found some in hidden-away parts of the FDA's website. He then looked to researchers for data, and got it from a Seattle researcher and one at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "I literally went down to a Kinko's," Turner stated, "and photocopied them."

The studies he'd found consisted of 74 clinical trials, with 51% showing results that were better than placebo and 49% with negative or mixed results. In other words, about half the trials, though they'd been produced for drug corporations and most likely were attempting to produce the desired results of showing benefits, did nothing of the sort.

Armed with the smoking gun proof of negative trials being hidden, Turner produced a paper, "Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy" for the New England Journal of Medicine. This time, he wasn't ignored.

Daniel Carlat, assistant professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, himself once on the dole with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, argues, "The fact that the negative trials can just be hidden away means that practicing doctors can get a very false notion of efficacy data for a drug. That's the real crisis here."

The question that must be answered is how pervasive the pharmaceutical firms' hiding of negative studies is. It's obvious from Erick Turner's exposť that SSRIs are generally useless. What about other drugs? History shows us that the same must be true.

Take, for example, Vioxx, an NSAID used for arthritis and other chronic pain. It causes heart attacks and has killed over 60,000 people in seven years. Could its manufacturer, Merck, have withheld information from doctors and the public?

Did Wyeth withhold information about Fenphen, two drugs combined to act as a single weight loss drug? It killed people by causing pulmonary hypertension.

What information was withheld by Hoechst Marion Roussel on Seldane? It was a wildly popular prescription antihistamine, which was withdrawn because it caused heart arrhythmia.

The number of drugs withdrawn because of their risks, which were likely known by the manufacturers, is stunning.

The cat is now out of the bag regarding SSRIs. If they work, it's only rarely. The known risks are extensive and appalling. Most, if not all, school shootings involved the use of SSRIs, or their next-generation offshoot, SNRIs. Suicide rates increase after starting them. Weight gain is often a problem, indicating a potential link to diabetes. Sleep disturbances and sexual dysfunction are fairly common. Many people have a great deal of difficulty withdrawing from these drugs. None of these problems were revealed during pre-approval clinical tests, but the fact that they're common begs the question. How many trials showing these dangers were suppressed?

Ultimately, the real question is how many people have died or suffered irreversible harm from ingesting the products of drug manufacturers? How much information is being hidden by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, all in the interest of obscenely high profits?

How innocent are doctors in all this? It's quite clear that they have been deeply involved in the cover-up. Whether they benefit from gifts or boosts to their egos from doing bogus doctor talks, or simply fall for the cute sales reps -- recruited primarily from the ranks of cheerleaders -- so that they close their eyes to pathetically weak statistics, how believable is it that they don't know? When thousands of people outside the medical profession can find out the truth about pharmaceutical poisons, why do the doctors seem to be largely unaware?

You might think that Dr. Erick Turner, the man who exposed the withholding of negative information by drug manufacturers, would have stopped prescribing the SSRI drugs that he focused on. But that's not the case. Although he says that he doesn't give patients false hope about their efficacy, he still prescribes them.

It's no wonder that doctors are so disconnected from reality. From the time they're in medical school, they're bombarded with pseudo-information from pharmaceutical manufacturers. They receive gifts to such a degree that a Lancet study found "approximately 50% of the items that residents carry have pharmaceutical company origins".

When doctors enter private practice, it's hardly surprising that they often become billboards and prescription machines for pharmaceuticals. As Dr. Jay S. Cohen wrote, "No wonder patients complain that many doctors look like walking advertisements for the drug industry."

Pharmaceutical corporations are so pervasive that, as described by the Washington Post in 2002, "In the days leading up to the American Psychiatric Association's meeting in Philadelphia [2002], pharmaceutical companies mailed attendees hundreds of free phone cards, as well as invitations to museums, jazz concerts and fancy dinners... And in several dozen symposiums during the week long meeting, companies paid the APA about $50,000 per session to control which scientists and papers were presented and to help shape the presentations."

Is it any wonder that doctors have become so utterly disconnected from their responsibility to protect their patients from harmful drugs? It's no wonder that they seem to be so unable and unwilling to look at drug company reports critically. It's no wonder that they have become little more than drug pushers, forever pressing the latest pills on their patients, without considering the risks and the obvious suppression of information about the products they prescribe. It's no wonder that when, finally, after a few years of prescribing a particular poison, they're informed that it's been recalled, they immediately jump on the bandwagon of yet another highly-promoted, research-suppressed so-called "wonder" drug. And then, they repeat the pattern yet again.

The pharmaceutical industry has so controlled the medical industry -- and with the doctors' full cooperation -- that even the doctor who blew the whistle seems to have no idea how to proceed without prescribing the very medications that he knows are ineffective in most cases.

About the author

* Heidi Stevenson, BSc, DIHom, FBIH
* Fellow, British Institute of Homeopathy
* Gaia Health (http://www.gaia-health.com)
* The author is a homeopath who became concerned with medically-induced harm as a result of her own experiences and those of family members. She says that allopathic medicine is the arena that best describes the motto, "Buyer beware."
* Heidi Stevenson provides information about medically-induced disease and disability, along with incisive well-researched articles on major issues in the modern world, so members of the public can protect themselves.
She can be reached through her website: www.gaia-health.com

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