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Category: Truth in Medicine

Is Restless Leg Syndrome Bullshit?

rls.jpg This past week’s Sunday “Post Secrets” had a postcard that said, “I don’t care what you said, I still think RLS IS BULLSHIT” sent on a postcard made from a Mirapex (prescription drug for restless leg syndrome or RLS) ad. This generated a flurry of comments in the Post Secret discussion forum, where people talked about experiencing RLS or witnessing a loved one who suffers from RLS.

Hence is the dilemma for direct to consumer advertising by drug companies.

On the one hand, there is a grain of truth in the ethics of drug companies to mass market to consumers a condition that affects a very small percentage of the population. One wonders why a drug company would choose huge media outlets like magazines and television to talk about a drug for a condition a very small percentage of the population suffers from. Would this create false diagnoses? Foster hypochondrias in those who do not actually suffer from the condition, but have become suggestive to think they do based on what little they know about the condition in a 30 second TV commercial?

On the other hand, those who do suffer from the rare condition can feel a sense of relief that they were not alone or “crazy”, that the condition is indeed a medical one requiring medical intervention, and that there is medical help. Even if drug companies try to educate doctors on a rare condition, doctors may not always have time to do a detailed workup and uncover the condition unless the patient proactively offers this information.

As cynical as I am of DTC advertising by drug companies, I still choose having the information out there than not having the information available at all.

Beware Dangerous Treatment for High Cholesterol

With all the media attention on high cholesterol and heart health, it’s not surprising that some companies are preying on consumers with “natural” treatments like “red yeast rice products” that may contain prescription drugs without obtaining authorization from the US FDA. The FDA is now warning consumers about these products sold on the Internet as dietary supplements for high cholesterol:

Red Yeast Rice and Red Yeast Rice/Policosonal Complex, sold by Swanson Healthcare Products, Inc. and manufactured by Nature’s Value Inc. and Kabco Inc., respectively; and Cholestrix, sold by Sunburst Biorganics.

These products were found to contain lovastatin, an anti-cholesterol drug, yet the manufacturers do not warn consumers about the potentially dangerous side effects of products containing this chemical the way that pharmaceutical companies are required by law to warn consumers. The FDA has sent warning letters to these companies to stop selling these products. Source: FDA

Backgrounder on Diabetes Drug Avandia Controversy

I’ve been tracking the various developments and commentaries on the controversy surrounding diabetes drug Avandia (rosiglitazone, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline). For those of you interested in background information and commentaries relating to the use of Avandia and increased risk for heart disease, as well as the affordability of chronic medications like diabetes drugs, I’ve compiled a short reading list including abstracts to the original research articles to help you get started. Please read my conflict of interest disclosure at the end of this article. (more…)

Ladies, Let’s Zap Your Periods

First it’s zapping bad memories (see previous article) and now – monthly periods for women. Gents, you may think of this post as “for ladies only” but keep reading: this has general biological implications for either gender.

Did you know that a small percentage – 8% according to this NYT report – of women have such painful periods that the condition qualifies as a disorder?

Enter Wyeth – a company manufacturing a pill that will zap debilitating periods – “forever”. (more…)

Zap Bad Memories with a Pill?

When Telegraph UK published the article, “Scientists find drug to banish bad memories” the piece was dugg over 1200 times. The article title effectively hypes up the idea that is currently backed up only by the most preliminary experiments. The truth in application remains years away – if indeed application of this idea is possible. That’s because many early scientific experiments of interesting chemicals working in mice and rats are hyped up by the press or by scientists themselves who can benefit from the publicity (translation: potential for future research funding).

What is not emphasized enough for the public is that what may look interesting in petri dishes or lab mice / lab rats remain just that – interesting. Does this interesting result translates to something actually happening in humans? Not always. Still it makes for good sci-fi movies or even a sequel to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

So what exactly is U0126? According to the Promega (a chemical supply company) website: U0126 is a synthetic chemical MEK Inhibitor that blocks the activity of the MAP (mitogen activated protein) kinase kinase (not a duplicate typo), MEK. U0126 is more potent and less toxic than PD098059, another MEK inhibitor that has been under investigation for potential therapeutic use for decades, but hasn’t resulted in a human application.

Massachusetts Mandatory Health Insurance Law for Young People

I don’t know what your finances looked like when you were when you were 18 or in your early twenties, but I was a starving graduate student barely able to afford rent. If now I have to pay at least $100 each month on top of my expenses, I’d sink deeper into debt unless I move out of that state. Now, MA is requiring all taxpayers to prove that they have health insurance, which would include young adults who are still either in school or starting to chip away at student loans with their first jobs.

Of course, the politicians are going to espouse the wonders of early prevention and encouraging young people to take better care of their health so that they could lead long, healthy lives. One of the reason why HMOs love healthy adults and young people is because the number crunchers have found that they are less likely to use health care simply because statistics show that this population is healthier than an older age group. This means the HMOs will come out ahead in their business of covering for treatment and cost of care. The truth is, the Massachusetts bureaucrats want the young to pay and subsidize health care utilization by the aging population. We’ve seen how well this concept of “taxing one generation to pay for the other generation” has worked for social security; health care is a hegemonic burden that is finding its expenses to all segments of the population (except for illegal immigrants, but that’s another unwieldy topic).

I’m glad I’m not a young person living in Massachusetts.

How Much Vermont Psychiatrists and Endocrinologists Received from Drug Companies

Gardiner Harris of New York Times wrote about Vermont’s disclosure of the amount of funds that the states doctors received from drug companies. While the focus was on psychiatrists, because they received top total dollars, I was particularly intrigued that endocrinologists as a specialty followed a close second. Those of you familiar with the field (I briefly worked in the field when I was a pharma employee) know that compared to psychiatrists, endocrinologists are a much smaller group as a specialty.

moneyparachute.gif Still, I was concerned that psychiatrists earn so much money from drug companies because in general, doctors can earn money from drug companies mainly through consulting fees (including speaking fees) or from participating in clinical trials. In neuroscience, clinical trials tend to be very large and time-consuming to have any meaning behind the results. This means psychiatrists wouldn’t make much money per year from clinical trial participation alone, and the bulk of their revenues would come from “consulting” agreements. Consulting agreements usually comprise of speaking engagements and other “advisory board” activities. While we have many more drugs within the psychiatric therapeutic area than endocrinology, why wasn’t cardiovascular specialists a close second or even topping the list? The number of psych drugs could rival the number of cardiovascular drugs on the market.

Could it be that there is much more off-label (unapproved) use of psychiatric drugs than there is for cardiovascular drugs? This was implied by the NYT article, when it noted that psychiatrists who earned a lot of money tend to prescribe psych meds to children the most often. (more…)

Alli is Really Over The Counter Xenical

I was wondering about the rash of recent television ads for a product called “Alli”. It was obviously a diet product, but I wasn’t sure if it was an herbal supplement or prescription drug. The tone of the ad sounded more like an herbal supplement, and the multi-colored lettering on the bottle looked gimmicky.

Turns out that Alli is the over the counter (OTC) version of an old drug called Xenical.

Some side effects associated with Xenical: Oily Spotting, Flatus with Discharge, Fecal Urgency, Fatty/Oily Stool, Oily Evacuation, Increased Defecation, Fecal Incontinence. In layman’s terms: your butt “leaks” oil, you may expect to have sh*tty farts, you may expect to have the sh*ts (and when you do you’d better pray you’re near a bathroom because you may not have much time or control), you may expect to have oily sh*t, and you may expect to have trouble sh*tting all other times.

The ads could have just said that and saved us a lot of trouble figuring out what this product really is. But that would be too obvious, and the marketers are counting on consumers not knowing any better to buy into the hype so the drug company (GlaxoSmithKline) can make some money before people figure it out for themselves.

Truth in Healthcare Sits Between Extremes

A friend sent me an article called, “Drugged out of our minds“, written by Larry M. Jones, a retired Navy Commander and aviator in Texas. Mr. Jones thought the reasons given by drug companies for high drug costs smelled fishy and didn’t appreciate having to fight for a parking space or waiting room seat with pharmaceutical “reps waiting to peddle their wares to the physicians.” Mr. Jones said it was a shame that some American citizens had to skip or split pills because they could not afford their treatment.

I can’t argue with how this “stinks” and how nice it would be if we could get free or affordable medications. I have a chronic condition for which I need to take daily course of prescription strength medication and I have to consider the cost in my budget. I may also have some sympathy toward the pharmaceutical industry because I have worked in pharma companies for most of my professional life and I have some insight into how much research, development, and marketing costs.

Healthcare and medicine strike highly emotional cords in all of us. We – not just the seniors – are becoming victims of “poorly managed healthcare”. Working professionals are fighting a different battle in healthcare – employer healthcare coverage – than elderly or retired citizens, but we all eventually progress to the same question of affordability and healthcare cost. (more…)

Misleading Healthcare Ads and False Claims

Google has made astronomical profit from its advertisement programs, at least $900 million. Certainly, Google’s Adsense/Adwords services has benefitted both website publishers and businesses alike. takes advantage of Google’s Adsense service to display contextual (relevant) ads that Google serves up from advertisers, and when visitors click through to products and services that they are interested in, this website benefits by gaining a few cents in the “Website Operations and Maintenance” kitty. Google also serves up text-based, contextual ads next to key word search results.

When you mix free speech, lax advertising content policy enforcement, and opportunistic merchants, you come face to face with asking where the buck stops when consumers are barraged with misleading healthcare ads and false claims for miracle cures. (more…)

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