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Prescriptions Scarier Than ‘Devil Weed’

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Prescriptions scarier than ‘devil weed’


Sunday, June 27, 2010



I remember hearing 62 years ago that Robert Mitchum had been caught with a joint of marijuana in his suitcase, was arrested and his acting career ended. I remember thinking, “He’s done for, now — that devil weed has entered his brain, and it is all over for him.” Such was the power of public disinformation. In people of my generation, those concepts still hold true for many.

Every morning, we review the cases that come before the medical examiner’s office. During the past few years, more and more deaths are related to prescription drugs, often taken with legal prescriptions for opiates. In 2009, drug overdoses reportedly exceeded automobile deaths in 15 states. Some studies indicated deaths from ingesting multiple prescription drugs is up by 60 percent. This is partially fueled by the ever-increasing volume of advertisements for prescription drugs on television. Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are epidemic. You know them as drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. The costs to health care are enormous.

Whenever I see someone with a beatific smile, I ask the same question: Have you been touched by a religious experience, or are you taking an SSRI? The answer is almost always an SSRI drug. These drugs create inter-synaptic happiness and delay the development of a rational approach to problem-solving and a personal philosophy that can lead to happiness and contentment.

Some recent studies suggest these drugs are of little value except for severely clinically depressed individuals. More important, these drugs have many serious side effects, both physiological and psychological, that can lead to death.

In the 25 years I have been a medical examiner, however, I have neither seen nor heard of a death caused by marijuana. Given the choice of being placed in a room of either marijuana smokers or alcoholics, I would choose the marijuana smokers. Except for lethargy, there are few side effects of this drug.

So how can it make sense that a large number of humans are on mood-altering prescription drugs with significant risks, yet marijuana is deemed a dangerous and illegal drug whose possession warrants severe punishment? About 50 percent of prisoners are incarcerated because of drug use or sales. Those who go to prison for selling or raising marijuana come out highly skilled in the production and sale of more dangerous drugs, such as opiates and methamphetamine. The prison experience starts many on the road to social anarchy. If the use of marijuana cannot be made legal on the basis of rational scientific reasoning, we must admit we cannot afford to pay for the many individuals incarcerated for a benign drug. This money could be much better used for public education and drug education. We are losing the war on drugs and creating an illegal market that results in increased crime and drug deaths. We should legalize all drugs, but marijuana would be a start. Clearly, our approach to mind-altering drugs has changed. A number of neuroscientists now suggest drugs such as Ritalin and amphetamine should be available to the public to increase brain activity and work productivity.

Often, the older generation that demands punishment for marijuana has never actually used this natural herbal drug. They believe the old stories about “devil weed.” If they actually smoked marijuana, they would be surprised because the first time, almost nothing happens. If they try it again, they might notice a feeling of relaxation, of overlooking the small annoyances of life and of a small increase in appetite. They would notice that, unlike with alcohol, they have greater tolerance for their fellow man and tend to be more careful about their activities, such as driving. The next day, they are often relaxed and somewhat apathetic to carrying out tasks. Humans become more sensitive to marijuana, rather than developing a resistance, as with some mind-altering drugs. I would never advocate any drug, but this one has fewer side effects than most.

All mind-altering drugs distort the natural joys and charms of living, but the worst thing we do is warn our children that exposure to marijuana will make them go crazy.

The current issue of Science News describes the many medical uses of marijuana, including the treatment of anxiety, nausea and pain in cancer patients, and the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory conditions. So it appears we have incarcerated a large number of individuals for using a drug with evidence of marked beneficial actions.

I know it would be difficult to change the mind-set of hardworking law enforcement officers who risk their lives to eliminate drugs and believe they are performing a vital service. But the truth is the prohibition of these drugs is similar to the attempts to make alcohol illegal and cannot succeed.

So it is no surprise that in a number of states, rational thinking is supplanting disinformation in the general population. These states have significantly reduced punishment for the drug, and in California, legal marijuana is flourishing. Michigan recently legalized medical marijuana, and the growers are called “caretakers.” It is time to decriminalize the use and production of marijuana. It is already one of the largest cash crops in Missouri; let’s tax the profits and decrease the prison population. The state will be much improved, and there will be more money for educational purposes.

If we had the courage, we’d legalize all drugs. The money we get by legally selling drugs could be used for education. The supply would be of known concentration and safer than unregulated street drugs. Best of all, we could cut the prison population by 50 percent. With education, we could make drug use “not cool” like alcohol and tobacco. It is clear the approach to the war on drugs is failing. It is time to find a new way.

Eddie Adelstein, associate professor of pathology at the University of Missouri, is Boone


Michael Komorn

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100,000 Americans Die Each Year from Prescription Drugs, While Pharma Companies Get Rich

Prescription drugs taken as directed kill 100,000 Americans a year. That's one person every five minutes. How did we get here?

June 25, 2010 |


How many people do you know who regularly use a prescription medication? If your social group is like most Americans', the answer is most. Sixty-five percent of the country takes a prescription drug these days. In 2005 alone, we spent $250 billion on them.


I recently caught up with Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds, an in-depth look at the pharmaceutical companies that have taken the reins of our faltering health care system by cleverly hawking every kind of drug imaginable. We discussed how this powerful industry has our health in its hands.


Daniela Perdomo: Your book includes some staggering stats. For example, 100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs — that’s 270 per day, or, as you put it, more than twice as many who are killed in car accidents each day. Could you elaborate on this? Are these people abusing their prescription drugs or is this a sign of prescription meds gone bad?


Melody Petersen: The study estimating that 100,000 Americans die each year from their prescriptions looked only at deaths from known side effects. That is, those deaths didn’t happen because the doctor made a mistake and prescribed the wrong drug, or the pharmacist made a mistake in filling the prescription, or the patient accidentally took too much. Unfortunately, thousands of patients die from such mistakes too, but this study looked only at deaths where our present medical system wouldn’t fault anyone. Tens of thousands of people are dying every year from drugs they took just as the doctor directed. This shows you how dangerous medications are.


DP: You write about a growing market for drugs for children. You say we know little about the long-term effects of prescription meds on kids. Let’s talk particularly about depression medications and ADHD meds, which seem to be what kids are mostly prescribed.


MP: In recent years, sales of drugs for children have been the industry’s fastest growing business. Doctors now prescribe pills to children for all kinds of conditions — from high cholesterol to anxiety. The market for ADHD drugs has long been a big opportunity for the industry. More recently, the companies have had their sales reps urge doctors to prescribe antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychiatric meds to children. The result: our kids take more of those medicines than children in other countries. For example, a study last year found that American children take three times more attention deficit medications and antidepressants than children in Europe.


DP: Could you tell me how the prescription med industry is in bed with doctors?


MP: The industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars on physicians every year. In one survey, 9 out of 10 doctors said they had recently taken something of value from the drug industry. And some of those doctors take hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the industry. The drug companies pay doctors to be their so-called consultants. They also pay them to sit on corporate advisory boards and to give lectures to other doctors. They pay for up to 80 percent of the continuing medical education that doctors need to maintain their licenses. If you ask a doctor if this is a problem, they will more than likely tell you no. But the studies show that even a small gift will sway doctors to write a prescription for a certain drug. The truth is that doctors are no longer independent gatekeepers who keep us safe from drugs we don’t need. Far too many of them are financially tied to the industry. They are writing the prescriptions that their financial backers want them to write.


DP: We are the only developed country that doesn't control prescription drug prices. Could you tell me what that means, practically, for consumers?


MP: It means that the drug companies can charge whatever they want to — even for drugs that don’t work very well. One drug costs $400,000 a year. Some cancer drugs now cost $50,000, even though on average, they give the patient just a few weeks extra to live. It’s clear that the drugs aren’t worth these extreme prices, but the companies are taking advantage of patients who are desperate for a cure. The industry’s unlimited hikes in prices have helped make health insurance unaffordable. This is also why wages of American workers have stagnated. When health premiums rise, employers must get the extra money from somewhere, and employee raises are one of the first things to go.


DP: You write about how companies are more interested in developing 'lifestyle drugs for rich Americans' rather than discovering cures for diseases that affect the majority of the world, like malaria. How many cholesterol drugs do we need? Sex drive meds? Hair loss meds?


MP: The answer is that we really don’t need many of those kinds of drugs, those lifestyle drugs that don’t save or lengthen lives. But the drug companies have discovered there are billions of dollars to be made by selling pills to Americans who worry about getting old, but are otherwise healthy. It’s so easy to fall for the marketers’ claim that a little pill will enhance our lives and keep us young forever.


DP: Could you tell me about drugs that are developed for one use but used for another. How often does this happen?


MP: It is a common sales tactic in the industry to have sales reps push doctors to prescribe a drug for many uses and patient conditions. The drug companies do this even though it is illegal to promote a drug for anything other than the condition the FDA has approved it for. I detail in my book how a lackluster drug for epilepsy – a drug called Neurontin -- was sold by a company for just about any condition that affects the brain. The company’s sales representatives pushed doctors to prescribe Neurontin for children with attention problems, for adults with mania, for just about anyone with restless legs. They did this even though they had no scientific evidence that it helped people with these conditions. This is a very dangerous corporate fraud.


DP: How often are ailments created simply to fit a drug already created?


MP: The industry has proven that it is not beyond creating new diseases when it wants to expand the use of a drug. For example, I wrote in my book about how the company Pharmacia created the disease of overactive bladder to expand sales of a drug for incontinence. We don’t know how often this is done because few companies are willing to tell the public how their marketers work behind the scenes.


DP: What do we prescribe drugs for that other countries don’t? In other words, what ailments do Americans suffer from that other nations don’t?


MP: The drug companies have made Americans believe that almost anything should be treated with a pill. Women can ask their doctors for a drug that will diminish their facial hair. Parents can ask for a stimulant to keep their children calm and focused. Even people who are shy are now told they have a disease that needs to be medicated. This is far less prevalent in other countries because the drug companies don’t have as much power elsewhere. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two developed countries in the world that allow the drug companies to aggressively advertise prescription drugs to consumers.


DP: Why do we rush to prescribe? Have we always been this way or was there a shift at some point?


MP: The prescriptions are driven by the promotional efforts of the industry. Today, the companies start promoting a drug years before it even goes to the FDA for approval. Some drugs have promotional campaigns funded by more than a billion dollars. It was around 1980 when the big drug companies learned that they could make far more profit by focusing their efforts on marketing rather than on the truly hard work of scientific research and finding new drugs.


DP: American life expectancy is low compared to other developed nations. What are they doing right? We’re not the only ones with prescription drug companies within our borders.


MP: In America, if you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, you can easily get too much medicine, too much health care. Many Americans don’t understand that all of health care has risks and that too much of it can actually shorten your life. Is this one of the reasons why we’re falling fast in the world rankings on life expectancy? No one knows for sure. But it’s obvious that all that money we spend on prescriptions and doctors is not giving us an advantage.


DP: From a consumer/patient standpoint, are certain drug manufacturers better than others?


MP: No. There is not an ethically minded shining star. All the companies operate in a similar way. Fraud is rampant in this industry because there is so much money involved.


DP: How will the health care bill affect prescription drug use and the med industry?


MP: The drug companies and their lobbyists won big under the new health care law. The companies will get millions of new customers. At the same time, Congress agreed with the industry’s lobbyists that there should be no limits on how much they can charge for medicines. We needed to make health insurance available to all Americans, but there should have been stronger cost controls and promotional limits in the law. Now, even more people will be at risk of getting dangerous and expensive drugs that they don’t need.


DP: What do you make of theories that someday very soon we’ll all be on smart drugs. Realistic? Already here?


MP: I recently spoke to a college student who told me he used Adderall, a drug for ADHD, to enhance his studies. He didn’t have a prescription for the drug. He got the pills from friends. He knew this was dangerous and illegal, but he did it anyway. People no longer understand that every drug comes with risks. Adderall, for example, comes with a label warning that using it without a prescription can lead to addiction, and in rare cases, death. The marketers have made us believe that we can do just about anything with the help of a pill.


DP: What is the biggest issue relating to prescription drugs that the mainstream media misses?


MP: Overall, the biggest problem is that the news media is not objective when reporting on medicines. Much of the news coverage on prescription drugs exaggerates their potential benefits and glosses over their risks. Many news stories about new drugs don’t even mention the side effects. People are getting distorted information on prescription drugs. Many of these news stories are little more than press releases that come straight out of the drug companies’ marketing departments.

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More from alternet on how the corrupt FDA is working for the big pharm companies and not the citizens they were charged to protect.


FDA Corruption


How Big Pharma Distorts Science to Get FDA Approval for Dangerous Drugs

How does Big Pharma keep getting dangerous drugs approved? Through the best articles and spokesmen money can buy.

April 20, 2009 |


In February the Justice Department charged Forest Laboratories with illegally marketing antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro to younger patients and burying a study that showed suicidal side effects in children. But the very next month the FDA approved Lexapro for depression in adolescents 12 to 17.


In March the Justice Department charged AstraZeneca with knowing and hiding the diabetes side effects of Seroquel. But this month the FDA considers expanding the antipsychotic's approvals to depression and anxiety.


And in January, Eli Lilly pled guilty to promoting its antipsychotic Zyprexa for unapproved and dangerous uses in a $1.4 billion settlement. But in March the FDA approved Lilly's Zyprexa/Prozac combo, Symbyax, for treatment resistant depression (TRD). What do you get when you cross Zyprexa with Prozac? Someone who gains 100 pounds and feels great about it!


"TRD" is such a new pharma invention that Googling it brings up Toyota Racing Development and Teacher Recruitment Days. But it will soon move prescriptions like GAD (general anxiety disorder), MDD (major depressive disorder) ADD (attention deficit disorder) RLS (restless legs syndrome) GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) -- and for the same reasons.


How do dangerous drugs keep getting approved? Through the best articles and spokesmen money can buy.


Forest paid Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Jeffrey Bostic $750,000 to chat up Celexa and Lexapro, according to US District Court in Boston filings. AstraZeneca paid University of Minnesota researcher Charles Schulz $112,000 to push Seroquel, according to US District Court in Orlando filings. And a decade of pain "studies" conducted by Baystate Medical Center's Scott S. Reuben on Vioxx, Lyrica, Celebrex and Effexor were completely fabricated--including the patients say published reports.


And speaking of "made up," Coast IRB, an institutional review board which oversees some 300 clinical trials and 3,000 researchers, agreed last year to approve a human trial for "Adhesiabloc," a surgical gel that the Government Accountability Office completely made up in a sting operation. Oops.


And let's not forget Joseph your-child-is-bipolar Biederman, a Harvard physician who, according to the New York Times, assured benefactor Johnson & Johnson his studies would have favorable results for the drug Risperdal in advance of doing them. (Why leave things up to science?)


And Charles "Paxil" Nemeroff, MD who was forced to step down in December as psychiatry chairman at Emory University thanks to unreported GlaxoSmithKline income of up to $800,000.


And the pharma funded studies continue!


Last May a pro Lexapro article, "Escitalopram and Problem-Solving Therapy for Prevention of Poststroke Depression," ran in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, with no mention of financial ties author Robert G. Robinson has to Forest.


Why was, "a researcher with a history of being funded by SSRI makers…given a forum in the national media to tell the general public that anyone who has had a stroke, whether or not they have been diagnosed with depression, should start a prophylactic regimen of Lexapro…even though non-medical approaches perform just as well," wrote Jonathan Leo, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroanatomy at Lincoln Memorial University in the British Medical Journal in March.

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