Category Archives: Activism & Advocacy

Stop Pretending You Don’t Know, Pharma Companies!

I remembered years ago I was speaking to a Forest employee who told me how proud she was to be working at Forest because of how ethical the company and the CEO was.

That same employee was critical of me for talking to the WSJ about some of the less ethical practices that pharma companies have been using medical science liaisons – especially when all other quotes were positive – mine was the only one dealing with the abuse and misuse of the role. She felt that I should have used the media opportunity to “talk up” the profession.

I said that “talking up” the profession was what I’d done for all those years that I was running the MSL Institute. It’s time to “talk honestly” about what ails the profession so change can actually proceed.

I find what has happened with Forest Labs part of a lot of denial that some companies’ employees and executives experience when they see one thing but are told what they should be seeing.

If they oust the CEO, it will send a message to other CEOs at other pharma companies: “you’d better start hiring people underneath you who are capable of producing profit within the law, or you’ll pay for your bad hiring decisions.”

While it would be more poetically just to oust those who directly violated – firing the CEO is also part of the solution. The CEO’s job is to ensure that the people s/he has hired know how to create that ethical culture, not just talk a good talk but walking a different way when the feds aren’t watching.

After a while investors, who are always interested in protecting their investments, will catch on with the reality that golden parachutes are no longer a good deal.

Or is this too vicious of a cycle to ever catch up with the investors and the Street’s pocketbooks?

How Ear Infections in Toddlers Affect Speech Development

Indirectly, ear infections can lead to the congestion of inner ear canals that interfere with proper hearing. Because very young children and toddlers’ auditory structures aren’t configured yet the same way as adults, the fluid that accumulates aren’t always drained and ends up staying in the ear causing ear infections.

This in turn simulates a hearing loss and prevents the toddler from hearing the spoken language correctly enough to acquire language. It is one of the reasons why doctors sometimes put “tubes” in babies’ ears, which would then be pushed out naturally after a year. However, this can’t be done as easily in toddlers because they naturally do not want to stay still while a doctor puts a tube in their ear – they will have to be anesthetized (general).

I attended an information seminar on this subject and the speaker gave this demo: Insert one of those foam ear plugs into your ear. Now have someone stand in front of you and speak – have that person move to one end of the room while you stand at the other end and try to hear. Now have that person turn his/her back while speaking. Most of us in the room could barely make out what the speaker was saying. And we already have language and have the tools to make educated guesses! We rely on visual cues to help with our language and decipher what the other person is trying to say, but when we lose this cue, or if we don’t understand this cue, then that’s a bit like what toddlers with hearing loss experience.

There is also a difference between “sounds” in general and “language sounds”. Thus, just because a toddler can hear sounds, it doesn’t mean he or she can hear language sounds. The best way is to go to an pediatric audiologist with the equipment that can test both pure sound field hearing and speech sounds in both ears.

My answer is based more on indirect causal effects, the website below discusses an interest in learning the effects of hearing and language acquisition/development: “Understanding the impact that ear infections have on a child’s speech and language development is another important area of study. Creating more accurate methods to diagnose middle ear infections would help doctors prescribe more targeted treatments. Researchers also are evaluating drugs currently being used to treat ear infections, and developing new, more effective and easier ways to administer medicines.”

Learn more: Ear Infections in children

Which Side Are You Really On, Jane Chin?!

I received what is probably the most passionate email from a reader of this blog that I’ve ever gotten since creating NakedMedicine.com in 2006. The email concludes with this:

I can’t figure out what your agenda is Ms Chin. Are siding with the poor hard working physicians who are fighting a losing battle with their idiot patient’s lifestyles? Are you siding with the tirelessly industrious pharmaceutical scientists who are selflessly dedicating their efforts to cure our ills? Are you siding with the poor neglected suffering individuals who are bravely pushing onward in their lives, struggling with disease, possible disease, possible pandemics, or just plain plainness requiring cosmetic medicine? Doctors, business, persons, for whom are you advocating?

I was shocked by the email, because this reader “hit the nail on the head”! He can’t figure out what my agenda is, because my agenda is in NONE of those sides he described. In other words, if I were guilty of picking “a side”, it wasn’t part of the “usual suspects”.

Here’s my very long response to my reader, to whom I’m grateful, because he took the time and effort to share with me this question that obviously is frustrating him.

******

You wrote what you felt, and I don’t fault you for that. I can sense a real feeling of frustration from you, and I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated about the healthcare system that seems to be broken in many ways.

I want to address specific points you brought up – first one being ‘cures’. I genuinely don’t think that the drug industry is prevented from, or are resistant to, discovering cures for diseases. It’s not about ‘cure’ versus ‘not the cure’ that is the problem. It is often the economy of scale that is the problem, and a very understandable one when you consider that the drug industry is – and has to run like a business – in order to remain in business. I have no doubt that the drug industry would love to find a cure – because they can charge for the price of a ‘cure’ and be justified in charging such a price.

The problem on the one hand is that many times we simply cannot find ONE underlying factor of a disease, especially the chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (in fact, many diabetics die of a heart attack and don’t live long enough to die of diabetes complications, especially those consuming a western diet). It is not like a bacterial infection where we can pinpoint ONE origin of the disease and target that specifically, the way we can target an infecting bacteria with an antibiotic and ‘cure’ the patient.

The other problem is about the number of people with a certain disease. For example, there may be fewer companies willing to research rare diseases that may be ‘repaired’ let alone ‘cured’, simply because the companies need to get the money somehow to do all the experiments and clinical trials necessary to jump through regulatory hurdles to even get the drug approved. When i was a graduate student, doing what are pretty simple experiments (and not even in people – i worked off the petri dishes), i was often using reagents that cost my employer thousands of dollars to purchase from reagent companies. Each of my experiments has to cost at least a thousand bucks, and many of my experiments failed and produced no result.

These prices are nothing compared to the amount of money it costs to run a clinical trial at the scale required by the FDA. Now the drug companies have to pay for the drugs, the cost of mountains of paperwork needed to get the clinical trials started, the doctors who do the clinical trials (and some doctors get really snobby and brag to each other about how much $ they can muscle out of drug companies “per patient” to enroll in the drug companies’ trials), not to mention the “overhead” that the academic institutions charge the drug companies because their doctors work there (and these overhead costs can mean more than 50% of the total study budget).

And then most of the drugs end up not passing the FDA’s requirements and fail to get approved. So if you’re running a company, you will tend to want to go into areas where you will likely have more customers – heart disease for example – just so you stand a better chance of keeping your company operating should it succeed in getting a drug treating that disease approved. This is also why the government has to create incentives for companies that are willing to go into rare or “orphan” diseases – for example, Gaucher’s disease is a rare lysosomal storage disease affecting maybe 1 in 40,000 people. A drug company that competes in this market will be happy selling 1 prescription every 3 months.

I honestly do not view drug companies as entities that profit from the suffering of others, because of the logic of this assumption: If drug companies are creating diseases in people in order to make drugs for the very diseases they created, then that to me qualifies for the statement. However, drug companies happen to offer the tools to treat the disease, not unlike device companies making scalpels and surgical tools to allow doctors to cut us open should our illnesses demand it. It seems illogical to me to accuse device companies for profiting from people having tumors that require scalpels to operate and excise the tumors – unless we’re also implying that the scalpel companies are putting tumors in people that only their brand of scalpel can remove.

Additionally, I have observed that for the most part, people in our society today tend to prefer that we “have a pill to treat XYZ”, so that they do not have to do the hard work required to get their own health back on track. And then you add to the fire media agencies that charge pharma companies millions of dollars to come up with brainless gimmicky advertisements, and it is no wonder why many people feel like the drug companies are “profiteers of suffering.” Some years ago, there was a government funded study that shows that rigorous diet and exercise will help reduce diabetes risk at a very real level – in fact – the study patients who had diet and exercise regimen did as well in reducing their diabetes symptoms as study patients who took an anti-diabetic drug.

But why hasn’t the government or the doctors (not the drug companies – their responsibility is in making drugs) done anything about this amazing result? Because the of costs involved to the clinics in order to make “diet and exercise” possible in patients at a therapeutic level. Clinics would need to hire case workers and nurses whose job is to counsel and support and follow each and every single patient who opts for this “natural and effective” treatment. OK then, how about asking patients themselves to do this? Seriously, if you are a patient at risk for diabetes (i.e. risk factors are there, but patient is still “pre-diabetic” and not yet requiring drugs to control their blood sugars), you have everything you need at your disposal to go for the natural and effective (and less expensive than prescription drugs) cure! why aren’t patients doing this? because willpower and discipline are key – and you’re going to need both for a lifetime to prolong the onset of disease.

I can share this true experience – a relative had prediabetic blood work results some years ago when I urged him to see an endocrinologist, because his side of the family also suffers from diabetes. the endocrinologist told him that because he was so young (not yet 40 at the time), she preferred that he try the old fashioned diet and exercise, and see if he could get the risk factors down, before she put him on a drug. He happens to have a level of willpower and discipline that even I don’t have – and he altered his lifestyle dramatically – and it was enormously difficult. 6 weeks later he went back and the endocrinologist was so impressed with his results that she told him that most of his blood work results were approaching normal numbers. But she also told us that not every patient she sees can make this happen – and often she is forced to give the patient drugs to make sure that the patient doesn’t end up with uncontrolled diabetes symptoms (resulting in all sorts of nasty things including death).

I see drugs as exactly what you said you wished to see – repairs and cures. However, the reality is, few are truly cures because of the complexities of most diseases, and repairs don’t always “fix” things without creating new problems (called side effects) EXACTLY because of the complexities of most diseases.

The doctors’ hands are tied not (only) by pharma companies, but by insurance companies as well as malpractice lawsuit concerns. Your average primary care doctor has to track how many patients he sees everyday because he needs to make sure he breaks even. That’s not the drug companies doing, but the insurance companies that capitate how much doctors are paid for doing what. So you also have a system that don’t reward doctors for spending more time with patients – in fact – you’re making it very bad business for the doctor to spend too much time because then he’ll lose money that day – and this does not do well to cultivate trust with patients who then need to heed the doctors’ advice about doing the hard things they need to do to steer their health status back on track.

Perhaps I can’t take any sides because I don’t think there are any sides that I can reasonably take without acknowledging that there are other entities that also need to be held accountable. the healthcare ‘system” is truly a “system” and a staggering, complex one at that. the best I can do is to help the consumers – people like you and me – to think for ourselves about what is being “sold” to us whether it’s from the drug companies, insurance companies, the government, the doctors, even patient groups. If I am guilty of siding with anything, it will be on the side of “critical thinking” about the system of healthcare with all of its players.

Best wishes,
Jane Chin

Pharma Industry’s Job is NOT Disease Prevention. THAT’S YOUR JOB.

I’ve heard the argument, so have you.

“Those evil pharma companies aren’t interested in prevention! They want people to get sick and stay sick because that’s how they make their money! On the drugs!”

Recently I had railed against the pharma companies that are capitalizing on increasing trends of people using certain prescription drugs as “lifestyle drugs” – not to mention appearing on the Wall Street Journal this past Friday to rail against pharma companies that abuse the role of medical science liaisons, so I have my own pet peeves and criticisms with pharma. What irks me is when a criticism about any industry is not based on a fundamental flaw in that industry, but is simply born of politicking sensationalizing this-is-how-I-get-more-readers/viewers tactic.

Most of these people have taken a basic science class at some point in their lives and learned about a phenomenon called “entropy”. How things in a system tend to go toward disorder, and to halt this “natural” occurrence from occurring, you have to add in a great deal of energy, and even that won’t ultimately stop the inevitable.

Kind of like the idea of life and death, which is relevant to the assessment of this dimension of our hostility towards the pharmaceutical industry.

Obviously, pharma companies want you to stay alive, preferably as long as possible. This is not so they can capitalize on you dying (a dead person is no longer a customer)! The pharmaceutical industry is a business that capitalizes on your DESIRE to PROLONG YOUR LIFE AND MINIMIZE PHYSICAL PAIN AND SUFFERING. If you aren’t interested in prolonging life and minimizing physical pain and suffering, the pharma industry ain’t gonna benefit from YOU since you’re not a customer to begin with!

Let’s say you are sick from complications of heart disease.

Pharma companies that are in the heart disease business is not responsible for PREVENTING YOU from getting heart disease. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for making sure you do what you’re supposed to do to reduce your risk of getting heart disease, unless somehow you have signed the claim to your physical existence over to another person who is legally responsible for your physical survival and health.

Your family doctor may have a responsibility to educate you on mitigating the risks of getting heart disease, so those who want to rant about prevention may want to point their antennae to the medical profession, but ultimately YOU are STILL RESPONSIBLE for the behaviors and actions YOU TAKE that lead to the result of heart disease or no-heart disease. Your doctors can be the best doctors they can be and even give you a diet and exercise regimen that will lower your cholesterol, reduce your blood pressure, and take down your diabetes risk factors a few notches – but if you DON’T DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO, then you will end up with the health consequences. Actually, this is EXACTLY what happens in many obesity and heart disease cases today. Doctors themselves will admit that many of their patients won’t heed their advice, and most will lack the discipline required to stick with a rigorous healthy lifestyle to make a lifesaving change.

Are we saying that it’s the pharma industry’s job to PREVENT us from assuming behaviors that will put our health at risk? If there’s a pill for stopping us from risky behaviors, and pharma makes it commercially available, then we’ll simply turn around and say “now pharma wants to control our thoughts and actions!” (I think we already have those kind of pills, and there are activists and lawyers jumping on that bandwagon.)

Seriously, if you take care of your body, do everything healthy like you’re inundated by all media outlets to do (don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t go out in the sun without wearing sunscreen, eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, etc…), then you’re probably not going to need all those pharmaceuticals until the inevitable process of aging occurs, where your cells can’t care less what you’ve done because they’re all getting old and breaking down as a natural part of the decline of “life” in your physical human existence.

Female Sexual Dysfunction: Pharma’s Next Lifestyle Market

I’m posting this from one of Steve Woodruff’s blog posts that I shared via my Facebook profile, which turned into a full blown debate between me, Dmitriy Kruglyak, and Yvette – one of my FB friends.

Jane Chin
I’m pro-pharma, but I’m NOT happy w/ female sexual dysfunction disease mongering I expect to see from pharmacos! http://ow.ly/4xQH

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:18am April 30
Where do you draw the line between “disease mongering” and “disease awareness”?

Jane Chin at 8:21am April 30
When the ‘awareness” generated makes patients who otherwise are not candidates for the drug pressure docs to write the Rx.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:23am April 30
Ah, but who gets to decide “who are the candidates” and what qualifies as “pressure”? Especially if we are talking DTC, rather than Rx. Are there hard and fast rules?

Jane Chin at 8:25am April 30
that’s why I don’t think DTC is responsible for niche diseases. Pressure=if you don’t write it, I’ll go to another doctor who will.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:27am April 30
Hmmm, seems to me “if you don’t write it, I’ll go to another doctor who will” can come from any kind of patient empowerment, not just driven by Rx advertising.

Jane Chin at 8:28am April 30
Yes it can, but true patient empowerment IS NOT “take this pill, fix your problem” when the problem is not always solved by “a” pill.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:47am April 30
Patients just want to do what they want to do. People have, are and will always look for quick fixes. That’s human nature.

Jane Chin at 8:51am April 30
I know this is human nature, and one capitalized by advertising. But where health and human life are concerned, the ethical standards should be higher.

Dmitriy Kruglyak at 8:53am April 30
Seems to me advertising is simply fulfilling demand

Jane Chin at 9:02am April 30
No, advertising is meant to CREATE demand. Even better when advertising increases the market from perception-based v. needs-based demand. Continue reading