–My post today is in response to the Washington Post article “GNC, Target, Walmart, Walgreens accused of selling adulterated ‘herbals” February 3, 2014.
[These news clips are disheartening but very real examples of the problem with BIG PHARMA – AC]
When it comes to “Big Pharma,” most health-conscious Americans are aware that companies such as Target, Walmart, Walgreen and GNC are no better than the pharmaceutical companies. How can a company that sells toilet paper and furniture, hoses and eyeliner consciously manufacture health care nutraceuticals (i.e., vitamins and minerals, etc.) and herbal supplements? It is for just this reason that doctors like myself do the research, know the manufacturers, and inquire with the health care supplement company CEOs routinely to guarantee authenticity, safety and efficacy of the over-the-counter (OTC) health supplements we recommend.
Natural medicine has effectively been under attack for years as pharmaceutical company lobbyists urge lawmakers to deprive Americans of the benefits of dietary supplements. Drug-company front groups routinely launch slanderous media campaigns to discredit the value of natural medicine. The FDA continues to interfere with those who offer natural products that compete with prescription drugs.
Knowing this information, we must take with a grain of salt what the Washington Post article highlights, when it quotes that “Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers.” The article goes on to point out that the Department of Health and Human Services is recommending that the FDA seek “explicit statutory authority to review substantiation for structure/function claims” — essentially, it should subject the health claims made by supplement manufacturers to the same kind of scrutiny that drugs must undergo.
Now how do we think this is going to work? There is a direct conflict of interest between non-pharmaceutical supplements and pharmaceuticals used in this country. They simply compete with each other. And natural medicine directly threatens our country’s stock market through negating the need to use pharmaceutical drugs. Not to mention, the FDA is not able to safely and effectively monitor and approve pharmaceuticals that they oversee. More on this topic shortly.
In this same Washington Post article, Harvard Medical School assistant professor, Pieter Cohen, who is an “expert on supplement safety” states that “if this data is accurate” using a process called DNA barcoding, “then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”
I would like to see Dr. Pieter Cohen’s credentials as this is his training: Medical School: Yale University School of Medicine; Residency: The Cambridge Hospital; Special Clinical Interests: Dietary Supplements, Brazilian Health, Weight Loss.
Am I missing something? Where is the “expert on supplement safety training?”
This 2014 Harvard Public Health Review article title is more in line with Dr. Cohen’s interests: “How America’s Flawed Supplement Law Creates the Mirage of Weight Loss Cures” written by Pieter Cohen, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance. He’s an expert on the dietary supplement industry.
There it is again. He’s an expert, but now it is the dietary supplement industry. Hmmm… Expert in blackballing the herbal and nutraceutical industries maybe? I would like a peek at Dr. Cohen’s stock portfolio! ☺
Regarding the barcoding technology that is cited in the article, Stefan Gafner, the chief science officer at the American Botanical Council, points out that the barcoding technology used to test OTC supplements is not always able to identify herbs correctly. As the technology relies on the detection of DNA, it may not be able to identify the substances being tested because it is now a concentrated chemical extract or has been altered through purification and consequently now contains altered genetic material. Also, even when it can identify the substances in a supplement, it cannot determine its potency.
The Washington Post article goes on to state, “In the past five years, tainted supplements have been associated with kidney failure, hepatitis and other problems.”
What about the adverse side effects of the pharmaceuticals?
To bring all of this into perspective, let’s look at the historical perspective on the safety of (conventionally practiced) medicine.
Enter stage right: Dr. Lucian Leape, M.D.
As a physician and professor (at the time) with Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Leape began a study into the causes of medical errors, leading to the publication in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) in 1994 of Error in Medicine. In this very famous work, Dr. Leape, for the first time in medical history, presents Iatrogenic Deaths in the United States.
His original work demonstrated that in the United States, 180,000 people die each year as a result of Iatrogenic injury. Leape compared these deaths to the equivalent of three jumbo-jet crashes every two days. A later 2001 analysis supported Leape’s concerns:
Iatrogenic Deaths In the United States (deaths induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures)
|Adverse Drug Reactions||106,000||$12 billion|
|Medical error||98,000||$2 billion|
|Unnecessary Procedures||37,136||$122 billion|
Please read this table carefully and look at each category. Realize that “Medical Error” is separated from “Adverse Drug Reactions.” Also, of the total 783,936 deaths, 199,000 deaths induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures are “outpatient” deaths. This means NOT in the hospital and a category of its own, which would naturally include adverse drug reactions and medical error.
In that same year (2001):
- heart disease annual death rate is 699,697
- the annual cancer death rate is 553,251
It is evident that in 2001 that the American medical system was the leading cause of death and injury in the United States at 783,936.
WHO KNOWS THIS?
Medical error never appears in those “top ten causes of death” charts that pop up periodically, such as the one published in the New England Journal of Medicine’s (NEJM) 200th anniversary issue in June 2012.
The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) landmark report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health Care System, concluded that in 1999, 44,000 to 98,000 annual deaths resulted from medical error (compared to 98,000 in Leape’s report.)
Starting in 2003, HealthGrades’ Patient Safety in American Hospitals showed that about 195,000 annual deaths result from medical error (compared to 98,000 in Leape’s report.)
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report, Adverse Events in Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare Beneficiaries, found up to 180,000 deaths annually attributable to medical error.
Why so much annual disparity in representation? Could it be that as few as 5% and only up to 20% of Iatrogenic acts are ever reported?
Guess who is now responsible for the data regarding the annual/current statistic for adverse drug effects?
The FDA. Surprised?
The numbers of deaths attributed to adverse drug reactions is now reported by:
- the FDA
- Death Certificates – Death certificates are notoriously INACCURATE, and since when have you heard of a death certificate using “adverse drug reaction” as the cause of death instead of the condition the drug was supposed to be treating?
Let’s put this in perspective. Do you want the same agency that governs the safety of your pharmaceuticals, governing your supplements (the FDA)?
If this country’s political, industrial, medical machine (Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, the FDA and many more) is so concerned about our medical welfare, than how in 1994, did so many people die in the United States due to “adverse drug effects?” The UNDERESTIMATED (by all accounts known to date that data is a vast underestimate of reality) adverse drug reactions responsible for deaths in 1994 was 106,000 at a cost of $12 billion dollars in 1994. These numbers continue to rise from 1994.
You only have to look at the number of invested people on hospital, medical, and government health advisory boards to see conflict of interest. The public is mostly unaware of these interlocking interests. For example, a 2003 study found that nearly half of medical school faculty, who serve on Institutional Review Boards (IRB) to advise on clinical trial research, also serve as consultants to the pharmaceutical industry. The authors were concerned that such representation could cause potential conflicts of interest.
Former editor of the NEJM, Dr. Marcia Angell, brought to the attention of the world, the problem of commercializing scientific research in her outgoing editorial titled “Is Academic Medicine for Sale?” Angell called for stronger restrictions on pharmaceutical stock ownership and other financial incentives for researchers. She said that growing conflicts of interest are tainting science. Angell left the NEMJ in June 2000. Two years later, in June 2002, the NEJM announced that it would now accept biased journalists (those who accept money from drug companies) because it is too difficult to find ones who have no ties! Herein, lays the problem with conflict of interest generating the medical industry. The only safeguard to reporting these studies was if the journal writers remained unbiased. That is no longer the case.
We are fully aware that what stands in the way of change in the medical paradigm of the United States are powerful pharmaceutical companies, medical technology companies, and special interest groups with enormous vested interests in the business of medicine. They fund medical research, support medical schools and hospitals, and advertise in medical journals. With deep pockets, they entice scientists and academics to support their efforts. Such funding can sway the balance of opinion from professional caution to uncritical acceptance of a new therapy or drug. THIS IS BIG PHARMA.
I try not to talk about “Big Pharma” because it has become cliché. The Big Pharma conspiracy theory states that pharmaceutical companies, regulators, politicians, and others are secretly working in consort against the public interest. “This so-called Big Pharma conspiracy theory shares a number of features with other conspiracy narratives, but some features make this particular subgenre of conspiracy theory especially intractable and dangerous.”
Please be skeptical of anything you see or read regarding medicine. Remember there is NOTHING accurate to learn about medicine in the newspapers, in commercials, on the news or for the most part, even online. So, where do you turn? We need a national medical paradigm shift. Supporting your local natural medicine proponents (e.g., local naturopaths, small business supplement sale locations, and integrative medicine doctors) is a good start to THINK GLOBALLY AND ACT LOCALLY as we slowly create change in health care system in this country as well as in the world. BE patient.
To your health prosperity,
Dr. Ariane Cometa, the holistic doc