It is easy to point our fingers at greedy pharmaceutical companies when it comes to the rising costs of our prescription meds. However, the average citizen probably isn't aware of just how much these companies control our lives.
A perfect example of this control can be found on every other page in a leading medical journal. I'm speaking, of course, about the copious amounts of ad space.
It is easy for people to presume that the scientific evidence presented in various medical journals is based on unbiased information. Nothing could be further from the truth, unfortunately. Just as a network television channel strives to please their sponsors at the expense of a program's content, a medical journal that is filled with ads will always be at the mercy of its financial backers.
In his article "Under the Influence: Drug Companies, Medical Journals, and Money," Kent Sepkowitz writes:
Just as pharmaceuticals fund studies and pay doctors to give lectures, so too do they buy journal ads and reprints of favorable articles—lots of them. Often a drug company may find one of its products featured in a scientific article while another of its products is dolled up in a high-gloss ad a few pages later. Yet the journals keep quiet about these financial arrangements.
So, just how much money is the integrity of a medical journal (not to mention, the mental and physical well-being of its readers) worth a year? According to The Social Policy Research Institute, the New England Journal of Medicine receives approximately $18 million a year from pharmaceutical companies, while JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association receives around $27 million.
It was the New England Journal of Medicine that brought the most attention to this problem in recent years, after publishing a favorable study of the "safe" drug, Vioxx. Of course, we now know just how wrong they were. (It is worth noting that 2 of the 13 people involved with that study were actually employees of Merck.)
When Boston Magazine's Karen Donovan questioned the Journal's editor about the Vioxx scandal, he replied, “I am not a person who wants to make more rules. I just want people to behave.” It is particularly frightening to think that this increasingly corrupt industry is being held to an honor system of sorts, particularly one that is so indelibly damaged.
Susan Jacobs is a teacher, a freelance writer as well as a regular contributor for NOEDb, a site helping students obtain an online nursing degree. Susan invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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