Friday, May 25, 2007

Ask your doctor about...

What's an ordinary citizen to do? I'm no Luddite. Nor socialist. I am deeply grateful for modern pharmaceuticals, and in favor of private industry and fair profit. When I got Lyme disease last year, you can bet I was glad for antibiotics.

But it's hard not to be suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry, and saddened by the way medicine is corrupted by its influence.

I am referring, of course, to the recent spate of reports in the New York Times (May 10: A stunning correlation between payments to Minnesota psychiatrists and number of prescriptions; May 9: "Doctors Reap Millions from Anemia Drugs"), the Boston Globe (May 7: Dr. Daniel Carlat accuses colleagues, including his former self, of being "drug whores" and "hired guns" for taking money from drug companies), Salon (which may or may not be relevant), and who knows where else about the unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and some doctors.

The industry is responding. In the last few days we have seen two defenses of industry practice in the Op-Ed and Letters sections of the Boston Globe by representatives of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the American Council on Science and Health. The latter organization protests its independence on its web site, but a substantial part of its funding comes from the pharmaceutical industry.

As an ordinary patient, I would feel more confidence in American health care if the following things were in place:

1. No glossy mag or TV advertising for prescription drugs.

2. No gifts or services to doctors worth more than, say, $20.

3. Consumer advocacy groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the American Council on Science and Health, list their sources of funding prominently on their web sites. When such organizations are quoted as media sources, relevant corporate sponsorship is duly noted.

4. The Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health insulated entirely from political and corporate influence.

The beautiful thing about science is that it has been relatively immune to influence by religion, politics, ethnicity, and the other forces that divide us. It's a shame to see our confidence in the scientific way of knowing eroded by greed.