The damage wreaked by products and procedures foisted on the American people by pharmaceutical and “health care” corporations is incalculable. This week the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that 300,000 unnecessary back surgeries are performed each year. The gratuitous operations are sold by surgeons on the basis of a flat-out lie, i.e., that doing nothing can result in permanent nerve damage and possible loss of bowel or bladder control. No such outcomes were reported in the large study led by James Weinstein, MD, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Dartmouth.
Weinstein’s team looked at some 2,000 patients who had been diagnosed at pain clinics with sciatica -pain from ruptured disks that typically shoots down a leg- and compared the results of those who opted for surgery with those who chose to wait for the pain to recede on its own. After two years, 70% in each group reported significantly reduced pain. Gina Kolata of the New York Times, who reported on the JAMA study Nov. 22, implied that the side effects were equivalent: “No one who waited had serious consequences, and no one who had surgery had a disastrous result.” Surgery -even surgery deemed successful – is a serious consequence unto itself and is frequently mentioned as a source of pain by Californians seeking physician approval to medicate with cannabis.
A Times story by Gardiner Harris Nov. 23 put a number on how many children and teenagers in this country have been prescribed a mix of psychiatric drugs: “Last year in the United States, about 1.6 million children and teenagers – 280,000 of them under age 10 – were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions at the request of The New York Times. More than 500,000 were prescribed at least three psychiatric drugs. More than 160,000 got at least four medications together, the analysis found.”
No studies show the combinations to be effective. According to Harris, “A 2003 review in The American Journal of Psychiatry found only six controlled trials of two-drug combinations. Four of the six failed to show any benefit; in a fifth, the improvement was offset by greater side effects. If the evidence for two-drug combinations is minimal, for three-drug combinations it is nonexistent, several top experts said.”
Bribes from the pharmaceutical corporations are being redirected towards Democrats, according to Robert Pear of the Times, whose Nov. 24 story didn’t put it quite that way. CEOs from all the major pharmaceutical corporations jetted to Washington to plot their post-election strategy. One of their key goals is to prevent the government from negotiating lower prices for Medicare recipients. Expect an excess of TV ads in which earnest elders of all ethnicities express gratitude for the existing “benefit.” The ads will be just the visible tip of a lobbying-campaign aimed at maintaining high drug prices, off-label prescribing, liability protection for vaccine makers, and direct-to-consumer advertising of their products.
Pear gives several examples of drug companies hiring well-connected Democrats. Nancy Pelosi’s former chief-of-staff has gone to work for Merck, an aide to liberal Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington signed on with Amgen etc., etc. (The misleading headline said “Drug Industry Is on Defensive As Power Shifts.” ) Pear doesn’t mention that Patton Boggs, the lobbying firm that has advanced Big Pharma’s interests throughout the Bush era, has tight connections to the Democratic Party. Its cofounder, Tommy Boggs, is a former Democratic governor of Louisiana (and bother of Cokie Roberts, and son of the late majority leader of the House, Hale Boggs who pushed through mandatory-minimum sentencing for drug-related offenses in the 1950).
In a 2003 TV interview Boggs told Robert Novak why he became a lobbyist: “Somebody had to make the money in the family, Bob. You know, it came naturally to me. I love Washington. I love politics.” Boggs bemoaned the fact that Democrats and Republicans don’t socialize as much as they used to. Novak said, “I notice that there was a fund- raiser for your fellow lobbyist, Haley Barbour, running for governor of Mississippi as a Republican, fund-raiser a few weeks ago in Washington, and I looked down the list of hosts and I found one Democrat, and it was Tommy Boggs. Does that get you in trouble with your fellow Democrats?”
Boggs replied, “I certainly primarily support Democrats. But whenever I see a Republican who I think is very competent and very good, particularly one who’s a good friend of mine, like Haley Barbour, I tend to try to help them. Mississippi’s going to have one heck of a governor”
Does Patton Boggs lobby to maintain the marijuana prohibition? Pot Shots recently heard from a reader in Colorado who sought “a very definite example of pharmaceutical company intervention into the restriction of medical marijuana -a leaked memo, personal account of lobbyist, congressional hearing testimony, etc. It seems that the argument for restriction of marijuana due to pharma interests would be much more powerful if a few hard fact, documented cases existed”
Our response: The “smoking gun” you’re asking for could probably be found in Washington, DC, without much difficulty. (I’m based in Alameda, California.) A resourceful private investigator like Terry Lenzner could probably provide the evidence you seek for about $40K. It says a lot about the big “reform” bureaucracies -the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project- that they’ve never investigated the role Big Pharma plays in maintaining Prohibition… Two senior Johnson & Johnson operatives were present at the emergency meetings held in DC by federal officials, California law enforcers and Drug War strategists (from nonprofits and think tanks) after Prop 215 passed to plan countermoves. One of them was quoted revealingly in notes taken by a California cop. Pat McCartney wrote about it in O’Shaughnessy’s.
The circumstantial evidence is not to be ignored. To the question: “Do drug companies go to great lengths to suppress competition?” we can answer yes, resoundingly. Wyeth, for example, is currently spending millions to sic the FDA on compounding pharmacists who imply that “natural” hormones from yams and other plants are preferable to synthetic premarin. And think of all the INSANE studies SSRI makers have conducted looking for some tiny marketing niche vis-à-vis the competition, i.e., so they can claim ‘Paxil has fewer side effects among the elderly,’ or some such bullshit based on some ‘stastically significant’ handful of test subjects.
Alex Cockburn once wrote, “History is one big smoking gun and the function of the official press is to say this isn’t so.”
Fred Gardner is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Fred Gardner, CounterPunch