Tom Ballard, ND's blog


Drugs: No Comparison
January 13, 2011, 11:29 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications | Tags: , , ,

Researchers from Harvard, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association, have concluded that, “Many of our nation’s research priorities are driven by the pharmaceutical industry. These companies, not surprisingly, focus most of their attention on new therapies.”

This is what I’ve been writing about for years. How can we improve our health when the powerful pharmaceutical industry controls research? Their goal is to make money. New drugs make more money, whether they’re any better than the old or not.

Among this study’s conclusions was that few drugs are ever compared with other drugs for safety or efficacy. Instead they’re usually compared to placebos. When drugs are compared one on one, the report states, they usually don’t compare safety. Doctors and patients can be lured into thinking that the new drug on the block is better than an older, less expensive, drug, when in reality the question was never asked. This is one of the reasons why drug companies make more profits than any other industry.

It goes without saying that drugs are rarely compared to lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Drug studies also tend to be relatively short in duration, months rather than years, and limit their scope to very narrow parameters (ie, does it lower cholesterol, not whether it prolongs life).

There is one area where I have seen comparative studies. Cancer research usually involves comparing two chemotherapy programs or chemotherapy to radiation. You’ll never see a cancer therapy compared to life style changes or even doing nothing. Cancer researchers would argue that it would be unethical to use humans with cancer in a study and give them nothing, but the fact is they usually have no idea whether patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation are in fact helped at all. They may be able to tell you therapy X prolonged survival over therapy Y, but not if either prolonged life over no therapy.

The American public has been dazzled by the advances in medicine over the past few decades. And there have been remarkable achievements. As more reports like this one emerge, the public will undergo a slow awakening to the dangers of allowing a largely unregulated industry to dictate how medical research is conducted.

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