The Journal of the American Medical Association is rocking the boat in conventional medicine. An article in JAMA has come up with the suggestion -- aghast! -- that doctors should stop accepting bribes from drug companies. Most people didn't know that doctors routinely accept bribes (including hundreds of thousands of dollars in "contractor's fees" for signing patients up for drug trials), so this news may come as a bit of a shock to some.
Big Pharma spends nearly $19 billion a year bribing and influencing physicians, by the way. That's billion with a "B." How much money is $19 billion? It's more money than NASA wastes smashing satellites into Mars and exploding space shuttles in Earth's upper atmosphere. It's more money than the entire junk food industry spends hypnotizing obese children into nagging their parents for another box of sugar-bomb breakfast cereal at the quickie mart. Heck, it's more money than the entire United States spends on genuine disease prevention and health education.
In other words, it's a lotta dough. But bribing doctors requires a lot of
cash. Doctors have big-dollar appetites. They drive Mercedes Benz, Hummers and Audis. They live in 5,000 square-foot houses with high heating and cooling bills (especially for the outdoor pool). They have expensive habits, expensive travel, and expensive dinner bills (fortunately, drug companies pick up most of the travel and dinner). Let's face it: Doctors have just gotten used to the idea that they're supposed to be treated to a higher level of comfort and prestige than the rest of the population, and if it takes drug money to buy that lifestyle, then bring on the drug reps! Actually, I'm being facetious. Most doctors hate those pesky drug reps. And the smart ones can't stand Big Pharma, either. The really good doctors will first see if they can get patients to make healthy lifestyle changes on their own, and if they can't, they'll prescribe generic drugs instead of the overpriced brand-name drugs. But really good doctors, sadly, are also really rare. I happen to know a few, but they are the exception, not the rule. Nevertheless, nearly all doctors -- the good ones, the bad ones and the downright corrupt ones -- take money and gifts from drug companies. Walk into any doctor's office, and you'll be hard pressed to find a single object (mugs, paper pads, pens, etc.) that isn't emblazoned with the logo of a high-profit prescription drug. And those aren't even the bribes, those are just trinkets. But it shows you how completely drug companies have penetrated the offices of most doctors.
The majority of doctors say these gifts don't influence their prescribing behavior, just like the majority of consumers claim television advertising has no influence on their grocery purchases, either. Studies prove otherwise. Studies prove that drug company gifts to doctors are, indeed, not only effective, but quite a bargain for the drug companies. It's sort of like street corner drug dealers handing out crack in order to gain new customers, except that nobody denies crack is actually bad for your health. Speaking of crack, Pfizer's CEO Hank McKinnell says all this talk about banning the bribing of doctors is unnecessary because Pfizer already has its own "voluntary code of conduct." Well that's a relief. All the bribery in the industry is going to be stopped by the drug dealers themselves!
The doctor bribery problem has reached such a high level of ridiculousness that even JAMA, which usually plays the role of blowing the pro-drug propaganda horn, has noticed there is a problem. In fact, it has suggested a course of action that, if adopted, might actually reign in drug company bribes and restore a bit of honesty to the world of medicine. But that's only if it is widely adopted, and that's about as likely as asking a heroin addict to agree to stop shooting up.
Specifically, the anti-bribery proposal would: € Prohibit doctors from accepting free drug samples. € Exclude doctors who have financial ties to drug companies from serving on the hospital panels that determine which medicines should be on the preferred prescribing lists. € Prohibit drug companies from providing direct financing for educational programming. € Prohibit medical faculty from belonging to pharmaceutical companies' speakers' bureaus or publishing drug company articles as their own. € Require faculty members that receive financial support from pharmaceutical companies to post them on public Internet sites.
Reading this list is fascinating all by itself, because it makes you realize that all these things are going on right now. In other words, doctors who are paid "consulting fees" by drug companies are, in fact, sitting on the hospital panels and voting on which medicines should be on the prescribing
lists. Drug companies are funding educational programs (gee, I wonder if the "education" maybe mentions a drug, too?). Conflicts of interest between doctors and drug companies are almost never made public. And the transgressions continue...
Exasperatingly, the industry has been so deeply corrupted by drug company money that the seemingly simple act of banning bribes is going to take a political miracle to accomplish.
Just don't expect Congress to jump in and pass national laws outlawing the bribing of doctors. They're also on the take when it comes to drug money.
The financial influence of Big Pharma is now so deep-rooted with lawmakers, medical schools, doctors and the mainstream media that it's going to take the emergence of a massive, deadly scandal to jolt this nation back to its senses.
Vioxx, apparently, did not kill quite enough Americans (only 60,000+ according to Dr. David Graham's estimates), meaning that we will have to see a massive drug-based chemical holocaust, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans, before genuine reform is likely. That chemical holocaust, by the way, is well under way. It's only a matter of time before another Vioxx surfaces. Only this time, the cost in human lives may be far worse than 60,000.
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