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It's spread like cancer, controlling seed companies, national agriculture, mainstream food producers, international media, and government.

It’s spread like cancer, controlling seed companies, national agriculture, mainstream food producers, international media, and governments. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) recently reported that more than 50 per cent of the scientific advisors to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have financial ties to pharma companies whose drugs they review “for safety and efficacy.?The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of research and industry. The academic institutions of this country are…paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Remember in the 1950s and early ‘60s when Thalidomide was approved for sale to alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women? It was banned in 1962, but countless babies had already been born with flipper-like arms and legs, missing fingers, toes, and/or organs. Then, in 1983 the morning sickness drug Bendectin was presented to the public by Merrell Dow - and quickly withdrawn when a barrage of lawsuits claimed it caused birth defects.

Remember the scandal in our own drug regulatory system in 1996 after Dr. Michelle Brill-Edwards, a Health Canada prescription drug expert, charged Health Canada with “abuse” of the legal regulatory system? There were a series of offences. One was a migraine drug that had been advertised as having no side-effects. “Unfortunately,” Brill-Edwards said, “on examination of the file there was distinct evidence of coronary effects…[which] lead to deaths.” Her objections were overruled by “Health Canada managers who had no medical knowledge and no scientific training.”

Another bureaucratic drug controversy arose over a calcium channel-blocker prescribed for high blood pressure and angina and described as a “breakthrough” drug. Dr. Brill-Edwards’ meticulous research of the data revealed the Health Protection Branch Advisory Committee’s “tight ties” to pharmaceutical interests. She accused the committee of meeting in secret to bypass drug researchers’ data and the legal regulatory review in order to get the drug on the market.

“I decided it was time to leave…to speak publicly…and to stop the travesty,” Brill-Edwards said.

Conflict of interest always rears its head in dealings between government and big business - and when business owns the media, people have to become adept at listening with intuition and reading between the lines. Watch the press coverage of new drugs and take note that most news stories fail to report drug side-effects or the researchers’ ties to the companies that make the medications.

A recent NEJM survey looked at 207 newspaper and TV stories on three drugs from 1994 to 1998. The drugs were aspirin, Zocor (a chloresterol-lowering drug), and Fosamax (an osteoporosis drug). Of the 170 “scientific” studies investigated, at least half had one or more financial ties to the drug’s manufacturer. Of these, only 40 per cent reported the potential conflict of interest. Fewer than half of the news stories reported the drugs’ side-effects, and only 30 per cent noted the cost.

Claims for a drug are misleading when only the relative (immediate) benefit is reported and not the overall or long-term effect, which can be nil or potentially dangerous. Thus the “relative” benefit could encourage doctors to prescribe a drug for long-term preventive treatment with serious side-effects!

Consumers are advised to ask questions; don’t take just any drug your physician prescribes. Your pharmacist will provide an abstract of possible side-effects, so read it carefully. Remember, your health is truly your responsibility. Explore all alternative therapies.

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