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Big Pharma's secret payments to corrupt doctors, scientists finally to be exposed by US government

Sunshine law

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(NaturalNews) The legacy of back room wheelin' and dealin' by the drug industry, which routinely pays off doctors and academic researchers to hawk oftentimes dangerous and ineffective pharmaceuticals and medical devices, could soon be blown wide open by newly enacted legislation passed as part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which was successfully moved through the Senate with the help of an extensive investigation led by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), provisions that doctors who receive payoffs from drug or vaccine companies must disclose this when pushing new therapies or medical procedures from what would otherwise appear to be unbiased intentions.

The law was reportedly added to Obamacare because it was unlikely to pass on its own due to intense industry pressures against any sort of reform. Paying off doctors has become the bread and butter of Big Pharma drug marketing. It's both discreet and highly effective, repeatedly creating the illusion that the medical profession at large endorses the latest drugs and medical procedures, many of which aren't safe and don't work.

Many medical groups have become dependent upon drug industry payoffs

According to the Harvard Business Review's (HBR) Paul Thacker, who served as Sen. Grassley's lead investigator from 2007 to 2010, doctors and medical groups routinely accepts cash payments from the drug industry for speaking engagements, scientific papers, and other medical propaganda designed to make drugs and medical devices appear safer and more effective than they actually are.

An investigation spearheaded by NPR (National Public Radio), Consumer Reports, and ProPublica found that in the three years leading up to its publishing in late 2010, drug companies had settled cases totaling $7 billion for paying doctors to promote drugs. In many cases, doctors were encouraged to prescribe drugs for off-label conditions, or to prescribe expensive drugs when they weren't actually needed.

"Companies were paying physicians to give speeches on behalf of their products and to publish studies (ghostwritten by the companies) that downplayed those products' side effects," wrote Thacker in a recent piece for HBR, noting that many medical professionals have been resistant to congressional efforts to reign in this unconscionably deceitful practice.

"After we launched investigations of more than three dozen patient-advocacy groups and professional medical societies, it became clear why: Most of those organizations depended on income from industry, and many physician-leaders of these groups received large consulting fees."

Disclosure doesn't always deter drug industry corruption

Though drug companies have had to fork out billions of dollars' worth of fines in recent years for defrauding the government and pushing many a dangerous and ineffective drug on consumers, including the infamous Vioxx and Avandia scandals, it is still apparently worth it for the industry to use trusted physicians as mouthpieces for ruthless drug promotion.

And even with tighter restrictions on payment disclosure, drug companies are likely to continue bribing the medical industry to push their unsafe and potentially deadly products. According to a 2012 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, formerly known as Archives of Internal Medicine, disclosure requirements are unlikely to affect either prescribing behavior or health care costs, which could render them moot.

At the same time, a separate study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) revealed that disclosure does affect the way some physicians view published medical studies. When it is transparent that a paper was funded or ghostwritten by a drug company, doctors are likely to scrutinize it more harshly, found researchers.

Science journals even more plagued by conflicts of interest

Interestingly, medical science has made much greater strides towards addressing conflicts of interest problems than general science. While NEJM and JAMA instituted their first conflict of interest policies back in 1984 and 1985, respectively, the two leading science journals, Science and Nature, didn't institute theirs until 1992 and 2001, respectively.

In 2009, researchers from Tufts University found that science journals have almost always lagged behind medical journals in addressing conflicts of interest, and are generally worse at enforcing their already established disclosure policies.

"Industry has funded campaigns to undermine scientific work that has major public health implications, such as secondhand smoking, obesity, regulation of chemicals, and climate change," added Thacker. "In each case, hidden money buys off science experts, funds think-tank papers, and litters journals with ghostwritten studies."

Thacker's solutions include requiring all agencies that deal with the publishing of science to fully disclose all income sources and other potential conflicts of interest. He also urges the medical community to adopt universal reporting standards that others in the field of science can mimic, while at the same time disallowing the further publishing of any ghostwritten studies drafted by special interests.


http://www.gpo.gov (pdf)





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