The pharmaceutical industry operates in a way that puts profits before public health, members of parliament (MPs) heard last week. And the regulatory authorities, which are meant to ensure the safety of drugs and protect the public, collude with the industry, they were told.
Collections under which this article appears: Regulation
Consumer organisations criticise influence of drug companies
The pharmaceutical industry operates in a way that puts profitsbefore public health, members of parliament (MPs) heard lastweek. And the regulatory authorities, which are meant to ensurethe safety of drugs and protect the public, collude with theindustry, they were told.
Testimonies from five doctors and two consumer champions, whowere being questioned by the health select committee for itsinquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, builta picture of an industry that creates health anxieties amongthe public to boost its profits.
At the same time, withholding unfavourable trial results andcontrolling what research gets published ensures that doctorsget the messages that companies want to promote, the committeeheard at the second public sitting of its inquiry.
Public awareness campaigns are part of a "multipronged marketingapproach" that are commonly employed by drug companies to "gainfurther control over what medicines are being prescribed andto whom," said Graham Vidler, head of policy at the consumerorganisation Which?, formerly known as the Consumers' Association.
"These can often be for quite trivial conditions, such as toenailinfections, and they encourage patients to go and see theirgeneral practitioner, often in quite strong terms," said MrVidler. "At the same time the industry will be advertising drugsto these GPs, and our research shows that GPs often take thepath of least resistance and say yes to patients and prescribethe drug even though they feel it may not be the most appropriatething to do."
GPs can see pharmaceutical representatives on a daily basis,and their influence can lead to changes in prescribing habits,said Des Spence, a GP in Glasgow and spokesman for the No FreeLunch campaign, a group of UK healthcare professionals concernedat the undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry on doctorsin promoting drug products.
"Within three or four years [of it being launched] Vioxx [rofecoxib]became 40% of the medicines we were using in my area," saidDr Spence. "The industry has a major influence on healthcarepolicy. The influence is across the field and affects doctors,nurses, patient organisations, and government agencies. Theindustry is active in all these fields and has a very clearagenda
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