Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pulp Phiction

The story of how the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) paid for the writing of a thriller about terrorists poisoning drugs imported from Canada seems to have legs.
We previously posted about it here and here.
Now the story has been recounted in Slate, in an article by Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer. This version clearly summarizes the story so far, and then adds a few bits that weren't in our earlier posts. One bit was about Mark Barondess, consultant to PhRMA. When he tried to cancel the project, he offered $100,000 to the authors of the book manuscript, but on the condition that they would sign a formal nondisparagement agreement, promising not to disparage "Barondess, the pharmaceutical industry, or PhRMA" in any "public, private, or promotional statements or writing." Another bit is that the current version of the book features a pharmaceutical company as a villain: the plot reportedly has the company poisoning Canadian drugs, then trying to blame it on terrorists.
In one sense, this story is so ridiculous that it's hard not to laugh out loud - LOL as my teen-ager would text message - at it.
But in another sense, it's deadly serious. Medicine is a serious undertaking. Physicians prescribe drugs in an effort to help prevent or alleviate pain and suffering, or prevent or cure disease. Patients and physicians depend on having accurate, unbiased, complete evidence about these drugs to help decide which drugs should be taken, when and how much, based on clear information about the drugs' benefits and harms.
Stories like this bring into question all the information we get from the pharmaceutical industry. Although I'm sure that much of what the industry says and does is honest, it's no longer clear how to separate the good stuff from the ridiculous stuff.
The many honest, hard-working, smart and capable people in pharma need to stand up and put an end to this nonsense, before the nonsense puts an end to what used to be some great and highly-respected companies that made products that did a lot of good things for patients.

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