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Saturday, 4 December 2010

NO FREE LUNCH


The CBC was recently reporting on the increasing concern about the level of influence the drug industry has on doctors' medical decisions. Adam Hoffman, founder of the McGill University chapter of the U.S. not-for-profit group No Free Lunch, estimates that as much as 70 per cent of continuing medical education activities in Canada are sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry.


There is no denying that the medical profession is greatly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry that has infiltrated our universities, our health agencies, our bureaucrats, our hospitals and even as far as into our homes through television and the internet. When brand names such as Viagra, Valium, Prozak have become part of our casual conversations as if they were a common household name like Kleenex, we know that we are living in a dangerously over- medicated society. Believing that our young doctors, who were educated by our heavily pharma funded universities and work day in and day out in medicalized environments are not influenced consciously or subconsciously by them, is like believing that someone who works in fashion is not influenced by the latest designer trends. As one doctor put it to the writer of this comment when questioned why he was prescribing the expensive drug Avandia over less expensive older drugs that are as, if not more, effective in lowering sugar levels : ‘’Errrm, I guess it’s a trend to prescribe Avandia now’’! It speaks volumes of the reasons certain drugs - usually newer drugs with patent rights still in effect - are favored over others by many doctors! Incidentally, Avandia is no longer ‘’trendy’’ because it has been linked with increased risks for heart attacks.

The bigger tragedy in all this however is that our healthcare system is woven so tightly that we cannot escape it unless we want to live in the margins of society and resort to strictly alternative medicine. Sadly, we can no longer pick and choose which drug treatment we want to receive from our doctor and which we would rather not because it goes against our better judgment. For example, if a person refuses to be medicated for his heart condition by a certain drug or drugs that his cardiologist is adamant in prescribing, he may be labeled as a rebel against all conventional medicine and may even be refused further follow-ups and treatment by his specialist who has more ‘’deserving’’ patients to look after. Good luck trying to find another specialist or a GP to replace him. This can even result in the ‘’rebel’’ losing his driver’s license since, depending on his condition, he is obligated by law to have regular check-ups by a government approved practitioner who will give the green light for its renewal.

We are thankful that there are some watchdogs looking over the activities of the medical profession but unfortunately we are still very far from making meaningful differences and this as long as the majority of individuals will not have awaken (and started loudly denouncing) to the fact that health is a humongous industry and like every other industry it is subject to dishonesty and corruption. Unfortunately, even those professionals who have chosen the medical profession out of love and compassion towards their fellow humans can be subjected to insidious manipulations by the pharmaceutical industry that is increasingly proving to be no more ethical or moral than the next robber baron.

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