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Anatomy of a Coverup Collusion Between the Pharmaceutical Industry, Universities and Network Television

By Cheryl Seal (cherylseal@hotmail.com)

This week, the story broke that 13 major medical journals from around the world had joined forces to expose and condemn the manipulation of drug trial results by pharmaceutical companies. It seems the drug barons have been pressuring the university researchers who conduct drug trials into producing reports of results that will help gain drug approval. In some cases, the researchers are not given access to key data that might show an unfavorable result, or they are forced to use trial designss that will skew results to the drug company’s advantage while sacrificing accuracy. As a result, drugs with unknown, and sometimes ultimately lethal, side effects and questionable efficacy often make it far too quickly to market. By the time reports from patients and their doctors of ill effects or poor results start mounting up, the drug company has often pocketed enough money to cover all its expense, lawsuits, and STILL make a tidy profit. In other words, risking patient well-being - even patient death - is now considered an acceptable cost of doing business.

The pharmaceutical companies don’t spend nearly as much as they would have you believe on drug development - typically just 20% of their budget at most. Why? A growing volume of research is done by university researchers, a high percentage of whom are grad students who make a fraction of what the companies would have to pay professional researchers outside the college environment. Many student researchers are subjected to intense pressure by their professor supervisors, whom, in turn, are often pressured from higher up the food chain. Some foreign students, placed under the subtle but constant implied threat of loss of visa status, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in research projects. We have received reports of foreign students who actually have cots set up at labs so they don’t even have to go home to sleep.

How could Universities allow such exploitation? Simple: They are victims of their own financal priorities. Their chronically top-heavy distribution of funds has resulted in the lavishing of huge salaries on administrative staff, a pork barrel scheme that leaves an ever-tightening budget for other expenditures - such as improving education. As a result, over the past several years, Universities have relied increasingly on the cash cow of industry sponsorship of research. The trouble is, schools have leaned so heavily on this sponsorship that they have forgotten what they are supposed to be all about: students and learning.

There is, of course, no fatter research cash cow than the pharmaceutical industry. To keep the dollars flowing, researchers have been forced to go along with the program, which places ethics so far down the list they get lost in the shuffle of manipulated paperwork. Meanwhile, one drug after another is being pulled from the market for either lack of results or, more often, for their dangerous side effects.

The editors of the 13 leading medical journals finally said “Enough is enough!” and resolved that if the mainstream media, Congress, and the FDA were not going to do their jobs and act as watchdogs in the public interest,k they they would do it themselves. In an inspiring show of solidarity and courage, that is just what they did. This action is especially heartening in light of the fact that many professional journals are now being infiltrated, taken over, or bullied into submission by corporations.

So did the network television stations run this extraordinarily important story as their main feature? Of course not. Afterall, nearly every network news program is heavily underwritten by the pharmaceutical industry. Ever notice how many prescription drug commercials run each and every night on these programs? Instead of operating in the public interest, not one network news outlet ran the report as a lead story. NBC did not run it at all, and neither (according to a search of its web site) did FOX news. ABC ran it as a brief in their health section. We must once again give CBS’s Dan Rather credit. Although the story did not run as a lead, Dan skillfully inserted it in a position that made it at least count (as you will see).

The main story run by both NBC and CBS was, in a typical bit of corporate defense strategy, an attack on herbal supplements! This story railed about how herbal remedies are rushed onto the market without having to prove their safety, while the poor old pharmaceutical industry has to put prospective drugs through rigorous trials! It was a classic con artist approach - accuse someone else of doing just what you are doing in another way so that the focus is shifted away from your own crimes.

Dan Rather, apparently barred from making the journal revelation the lead story made it count by slipping it in right on the heels of the herbal remedy story. Only a clueless viewer would miss the point, which is that the big nasty pot was trying to call the more benign little kettle black.

However, the fact remains that there is a clear collusion going on between the pharmaceutical industry, university research programs and the mainstream media, most notably the network news. First, using a not-so-subtle form of financial blackmail, the drug companies push university researchers into producing the trial results they want, thereby getting the drugs onto the market. Next, the networks plug the hell out of the drugs on prime time, and even preview them in infomercials disquised as “Health news” features. Finally, when the shit hits the fan and drug companies are threatened by bad publicity, the networks do their damnedest to keep the bad press softened or witheld.

Meanwhile back at the White House, George Bush continues to bend over backwards to keep the drug companies from any accountability to the American public, and is promising them billions in research funds, which are, to all intents and purposes merely “laundered” through research facilities at the National Institutes of Health and universities. The largesse winds up ultimately in the drug barons’ coffers.

So how does the American consumer/patient fit into this ugly scheme? He or she doesn’t. The drug industry, the media, the university powers that be and the Bush administration are not interested in the state of your health. They are merely interested in the contents of your wallet.