Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cashmere for your Rear

Sometimes I'm glad that I'm a "financially challenged" grad student.

Facebook for Pharma

Pfizer has a new Facebook fan page, writes John Mack. But there's something funny going on.

We're number 1!

Among developed countries, the United States comes out near the top for violence, drug use, obesity, mental illness, teenage pregnancy and illiteracy. The cause is not poverty, argue Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson in their book, The Spirit Level. It's inequality. Read an interview in The Boston Globe.

ASBH call for proposals

The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities will hold its annual meeting on October 21-24, 2010, in San Diego, CA. Proposals are due on March 3, 2010 (including the student paper competition.) See more here.

Is the obesity epidemic real?

Freakonomics Radio investigates. The blog and podcast are here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nazi Viagra

Hitler had himself injected with testosterone and a cocktail made from bull prostates to keep himself virile for Eva Braun, says a new book. Read more in The Telegraph.

Like, Totally, WTF.

I'm so glad I was never a fan of MTV's "Singled Out," because it makes reading this article much easier.

DSM on the radio

This week's episode of "This American Life" is about the politics of the DSM, specifically the history of the diagnosis of 'homosexuality' as a mental illness.

Note: Apparently 'retardation' has been given a new name. Bostonians will now have to use the phrase "You are wicked intellectually disabled."

The counter-detailers

"Kristin Nocco works for the state of Pennsylvania as an academic detailer. Her job is to visit doctors and give them a rundown of the latest independent research on which drugs and other treatments work best for different conditions. The idea is to let doctors see how that expensive, brand name drug stacks up against the older, cheaper one. If, that is, Kristin can get through the door."

Read or listen at Marketplace.


A suggestion, courtesy of John Mack, illustrated by Pharmagossip.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The top ten most misleading drug advertisements

Forbes magazine has a slideshow of its top ten most misleading advertisements for prescription drugs. (You can also read the full story here.)

Saying yes to drugs

Judith Warner "started out thinking, from talking to people and reading blogs and newspapers and magazines, that overambitious parents and unfeeling doctors were pressuring children to succeed at all costs and callously using drugs to help. Then she talked to more people, particularly the parents and doctors who were giving children the drugs, and she read more blogs and newspapers and magazines. She had her epiphany and changed her mind. Actually, the children had real problems, and the parents and doctors were trying to help them."

Alison Gopnik warns of the dangers of preferring stories to science in her Slate article on Judith Warner's new book, We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How the Obama administration sold out health care reform to big pharma

Terri Gross interviews the Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal on the secret deal the Obama administration made with the pharmaceutical industry. "By negotiating the secret deal, writer Paul Blumenthal explains, 'the Obama administration got the biggest lobby in Washington and put them on the side of health care reform.' Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry got a guarantee that 'Congress would not legislate any cost-cutting measures that would make a dent in industry profits.'"

The Fresh Air interview is here; Blumenthal's article is here.

It's 5:00 Somewhere.

There are now 24 drugs in development for the treatment of alcoholism or "alcohol use disorder."

"Can big pharma bring sexy back for low-libidoed ladies?"

The title was too good to change - and the article can be found here. Maybe bottles of little pink pills will soon be available from our friendly neighborhood pharmacy rep. It's not like disease mongering has ever resulted in a blockbuster pharmaceutical before...

Real patients in ads

Research shows that patients often rely on recommendations of their fellow patients rather than other resources. WSJ writes how pharmaceutical companies use real patients in their ads in order to increase sales and regain trust.

Drug testing in the minors

Deadspin's Tommy Craggs says that testing for HGH in minor league baseball is "just further evidence that we will never, ever stop being stupid about drugs." Read more here.

Is this for cereal?

Apparently not. As a foodie, I really wish I didn't see this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Real-Life Wonder Woman

Superwoman Syndrome- Not just for comic books anymore.

Schwitzer wins

The U of M's Gary Schwitzer has won MedGadget's award for best medical blog of 2009, for his Health News Review blog.

Tomorrow's doctors, brought to you by Pharma

The New York Times reports on a study finding that "[m]ore than half of the nation’s medical residency programs to train doctors in internal medicine accepted financial support from the drug industry, even though three-fourths of the programs’ directors said accepting the aid was “not desirable."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Acres of Skin obituary

Dr. Albert Kligman, the University of Pennsylvania dermatologist who turned Holmesburg Prison into "the Kmart of human experimentation," is dead at 93. Read his obituary in the Times. (Or read Acres of Skin by Allen Hornblum.)

Why is this man smiling?

Unknown to the GSK officials who came to see Dr. Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic, hoping to fool him into keeping quiet about a study damaging to Avandia, Nissen had a bug in his office. Now he is playing the tape for the New York Times.

New York Times on experimental cancer drug

The Times is running an excellent 3-part series by Amy Harmon on clinical trials for a new melanoma drug. Part 1 ran yesterday. Here is Part 2.

Why better football helmets cause more brain damage

“What Do NASCAR Drivers, Glenn Beck, and the Hitmen of the NFL Have in Common?”

The answer? Each of them shows how risk is becoming a sort of luxury good. It’s a program about safety measures, the Peltzman Effect, and (mis)conceptions about danger (including, yes, fatal shark attacks."

Freakonomics Radio launches its inaugural podcast. Read more here.

Everybody is "at risk"

Read more about WebMD's depression test, sponsored by Eli Lilly

Monday, February 22, 2010

The World's Most Expensive Drugs

"When people talk about expensive drugs, they usually are referring to drugs like Lipitor for high cholesterol ($1,500 a year), Zyprexa for schizophrenia ($7,000 a year) or Avastin for cancer ($50,000 a year). But none of these medicines come close to making Forbes' exclusive survey of the most expensive medicines on the planet." Read full article by Matthew Herper.

Cryonics company and family battle over woman's head

"A Colorado family and an Arizona nonprofit are fighting in court over who gets the head of a woman who died this month, along with a $50,000 annuity she left behind". The article can be found here

The doctor GSK tried to bully

Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic talks about Avandia.

Can psychiatry be a science?

Louis Menand discusses a boatload of psychopharmacology books, including Gary Greenberg's excellent (and very funny) Manufacturing Depression, in this week's New Yorker.

Getting the credit they deserve?

If my body was generating $$$ for the medical industry, I would surely want the fame and fortune associated with it. Then again, I am just that kind of person :)

Death by sedative

A Massachusetts jury has convicted a mother of second-degree murder for overdosing her 4-year old child on powerful drugs intended to keep the child quiet. Dr. Larry Diller wants to know: why aren't prosecutors going after the doctor who prescribed the drugs? Read more in his blog post, "Mother Guilty of Murder -- Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Innocent."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who's this freeloader on my bike?! Oh, it's asthma...

A new PSA, funded by Glaxo Smith Kline, on the importance of taking more than one asthma medication...

According to the AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America): "The PSA features two cyclists riding on a tandem bicycle representative of the two main causes of asthma symptoms. When the lead cyclist pedals solo she struggles but when the second cyclist begins to peddle, the journey becomes much easier. Their ride together is symbolic of managing asthma more effectively by treating both main causes of asthma symptoms when one medicine is not enough to prevent symptoms."

Honey I shrunk our kid - should we be worried about the side effects?

According to this article in The Lancet, treating your kid's height as a disease can have unexpected consequences. The medicalization of height just wouldn't be complete without the prescription of drugs that cause miscarriage and breast cancer. The article is free, but may require a sign in for access by new users.

I Believe They Call This "Sustainability" Nowadays

Next time you have a kid, think of donating their umbilical cord blood. To a private bank.

Pfizer: "Twitter, here we what?!"

Although this video from Advertising Age is slightly dated (from August, 2009), it marks, roughly, the point at which Pfizer and other drug companies took the proverbial dive into one prominent pool of social media: Twitter. It seems at the beginning, though, Pfizer executives were unsure of what they could legally post on Twitter.

Since August, many other pharmaceutical companies have followed the path of Pfizer (and of, notably, Johnson and Johnson: @JNJComm being one of the first pharma Twitter accounts, created in February, 2009, and currently boasting a total of 3,136 followers. By anecdotal comparison, George Clooney only has 1,330 followers. And for some reason, @GSKUS (Glaxo Smith Kline's Twitter account) is following Ashton Kutcher and Mandy Moore.).

The PR pundits

The talking heads on the television news are often paid lobbyists and PR consultants, according to a study by The Nation. On the Media reports.

Got milk?

If not, call for a visit from the lactation consultant at $200/hour. Read "The Breast Whisperer" in the New York Times.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mild Discomfort Disorder

See here

Does a Broken Wrist Need Surgery?

Dr. Scott Haig: "We hardly ever operated on broken wrists when I started in the late '80s; now we operate on them all the time."
Read more how "generally accepted way to treat a fracture of broken wrist has changed quite radicaly."

Avandia report online

The U.S. Senate report on its Avandia investigation is available here.

I Hope Your Credit Limit is High Enough....

"I don't care if you're having a heart attack, we just don't accept American Express here!"

Do they accept IOUs?

In other news, need a kidney? Let's just print one out!

Diabetes drug linked to heart attacks

Another cover up with pharma...

Haitian Amputees

Although this is, perhaps, not yet within the genre of "medical consumerism", I wonder, just as TIME magazine reports, what will happen to the large population of new amputees in Haiti. My concern is based upon two factors: a) it seems that being an amputee in Haiti is especially socially unacceptable, and b) Haiti, desperately in need of relief and reconstruction, is a prime location for, perhaps, creating a new banana republic under the guise of medical assistance...
"In the U.S., for example, the most basic prostheses can cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Given Haiti's cheap labor, prosthetic-assembly plants could feasibly produce them for sale at half that price." (From the TIME article, "Haiti: What to Do with a Nation of Amputees")
I don't know - things will reveal themselves in time (or not), but a desperate, poor country full of amputees sounds like a money-making opportunity to me...

No brain, no pain

Maybe we can't eliminate factory farms, but if animals can be genetically engineered to feel no pain, who cares? So argues Adam Shriver in the New York Times.

Same story, different drug: GSK's Avandia

When it became evident that the GlaxoSmithKline diabetes drug, Avandia, was causing people to have heart attacks, "G.S.K. executives attempted to intimidate independent physicians, focused on strategies to minimize or misrepresent findings that Avandia may increase cardiovascular risk, and sought ways to downplay findings that a competing drug might reduce cardiovascular risk,” says a U.S. Senate report. Read more on the front page of The New York Times.

Unsealed Seroquel documents are searchable now

Good news for citizen muckrakers: 241 unsealed documents from litigation against AstraZeneca over its illegal marketing of Seroquel have been added to the Drug Industry Document Archive at UC San Francisco. They join documents from the Vioxx and Neurontin lawsuits. All of these documents are searchable by keyword.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fake pelvis to replace fake patient

The University of Minnesota spends $150,000 a year to hire pretend patients to undergo pelvic exams, so that medical students can practice on them. That is going to change. The new policy replaces pretend patients with plastic pelvises. Read more here.

Sex and the new DSM

Historian Alice Dreger comments on kinks and paraphilias here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Does This Blog Make Us Look Fat?

There are really only two things I wear as badges of honor these days. The first is that despite numerous opportunities, I have never tried a cigarette, cigar, pipe, hookah, joint, or anything else that might be smoked. I don't even know how to smoke. The second is that I have not had more than a sip or two of pop - Yes, we call it "pop" where I'm from - in probably close to a decade. Definitely several years, I can guarantee that much. I never buy it; I would often times go thirsty before I would dare drink a can of Coke or Sprite. The fake sugar in diet soda has an aftertaste that leaves much to be desired.

Today I ran into a classmate friend who was purchasing a regular Coke from a vending machine.

Friend: Hey, I've got some extra change here, would you like a Coke for dinner?
Me: No thanks, I do not drink pop at all.
Friend: Aww, don't you want diabetes someday?
Me: Uhhhh......
Friend: It's what all the cool kids have.
Me: This sounds like something I'd hear at a party freshman year of college.

I guess I just never really cared for the smell of "smokable items" or the excessive sugar in soda. However, I really do think that by and large, I avoid both vices because I don't like spending money and both just seem to be very expensive habits with very little return on investment. How much does a pack of smokes cost these days? Somewhere around $6-7, right?
And how much does a 20 ounce bottle of Coke from a vending machine cost? Close to $2? And how much do both habits cost society in the long run? It is kind of scary to think about from both a financial standpoint as well as just general morale.

Frankly, my big vices are dark chocolate and coffee, but I usually brew the latter at home with minimal cream and sugar, and the former is only a treat when I have accomplished an important task. I readily admit those too, are bad, but hey, I'm getting antioxidants out of the deal, right? At least that is what I tell myself...

Tiger Woods and the new DSM

According to the Globe and Mail, sex addiction may become an officially recognized psychiatric disorder. Tiger Woods and David Duchovny must be breathing sighs of relief...

Is that a candle in your ear or are you just happy to see me?

The FDA says to steer clear of ear candles. The WSJ Health Blog reports.

Synthetic biology for dummies

"Stephen Davies, a synthetic biologist and venture capitalist who served as a judge at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, compares the buzz around the field to the advent of steam power during the Victorian era. 'Right now,' he says, 'synthetic biology feels like it might be able to power everything. People are trying things; kettles are exploding. Everyone’s attempting magic right and left.'

The New York Times explores do-it-yourself genetic engineering.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's not easy being primitive

Should we clone Neanderthals? The bioethicists have their say in Archeology. "Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, doesn't believe that creating a Neanderthal clone would be an ethical problem in and of itself. The problem lies in how that individual would be treated by others. "I don't think it is fair to put people...into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared," he says, "and this is equally important, it's not going to have a peer group. Given that humans are at some level social beings, it would be grossly unfair."

DSM Onion

The Onion readers assess the new DSM.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrink your kids

Does anyone know the long-term outcomes of gastric bypass surgery for children? Not really, according to the New York Times.

Monday, February 15, 2010


The psychiatrists working on the new DSM-V are still compromised by financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, writes Merrill Goozner.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Protest Psychosis

Psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl argues that in the 1960s and 70s, schizophrenia was increasingly used as a diagnosis for violent black men. He is interviewed by NPR's "On the Media."

Robot surgeons want to operate on your prostate

"But now, patient after patient was walking away. They did not want that kind of surgery. They wanted surgery by a robot, controlled by a physician not necessarily even in the operating room, face buried in a console, working the robot’s arms with remote controls." How marketing is driving the demand for robotic urology, reported in the New York Times.

The secret of Fosamax

NPR investigates Merck's complex and brilliant campaign to transform "osteopenia" into a treatable illness. Read or listen here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How the health insurers deny coverage

Using a leaked document from BlueCross BlueShield, Timothy Noah of Slate explains how a Texas insurer denies health insurance to miners, professional athletes, anyone who is overweight, or any patient who suffers from one of 143 conditions on its Automatic Decline List.

A room with no view

"Over the past decade, Ludwig Minelli has helped more than 1,000 people kill themselves and has turned Zurich into the undisputed world capital of assisted suicide." The Atlantic reports.

PhRMA chief quits

Billy Tauzin, the Democratic ex-congressman from Louisiana who headed up the drug industry trade group, has stepped down. The Washington Post reports. (Pharmalot comments here.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pfizer ad warns not to buy prescription drugs online

This advertisement was produced for Pfizer by the British advertising firm, Langland. Warning: don't watch this if you have a weak stomach.

Harvard hires Lilly executive

A senior VP at Eli Lilly is moving to Harvard Medical School, where he will be "executive dean for research." Lilly recently settled a record 1.4 billion lawsuit for illegal marketing. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DSM revisions in the works

"Far fewer children would get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. "Binge eating disorder" and “hypersexuality” might become part of the everyday language. And the way many mental disorders are diagnosed and treated would be sharply revised. These are a few of the changes proposed on Tuesday by doctors charged with revising psychiatry's encyclopedia of mental disorders." Read about it in the NY Times.

Chronic Boredom a Killer?

A classic example of disease mongering... or is it?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

An Oscar for Alli?

When it is not saving the developing world, GlaxoSmithKline will be making movies to boost interest in its weight-loss drug, Alli. Read all about it.

The Wonder Drug Myth

Here is an article from the Atlantic on the history of drug development... relevant to our discussion lately on marketing

A supposedly fun thing that I will never do, even if my head is frozen in liquid nitrogen

Take a cruise to the Bahamas with transhumanists and bioethicists.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Those Crazy Nonvenomous Reptiles

This article on Slate was really interesting to me. I had no idea that so much money was being spent on it when the chances of it occurring are so low.

Artiforg Products: View the Complete Catalogue

Artiforg products may seem out of reach at first glance, but the Union offers a variety of financing plans for customers with limited resources. If you are unable to pay for your device outright, you can opt instead to take advantage of our Easy Lease plan. Read more here.

Whistleblower silenced

"It occurred to Anne Mitchell as she was writing the letter that she might lose her job, which is why she chose not to sign it. But it was beyond her conception that she would be indicted and threatened with 10 years in prison for doing what she knew a nurse must: inform state regulators that a doctor at her rural hospital was practicing bad medicine." Read more in the Times.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Behind the Seroquel lawsuits

The BBC's Radio 4 explores the litigation over the AstraZeneca neuroleptic drug Seroquel. A transcript can be found here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Checklist... an easy concept but will it ever be fully implemented?

Atul Gawande on Daily Show last night talking about his book on Checklists (pretty funny) ... and if you haven't read it, here is the New Yorker article from a few years ago on the same topic

Night Train, with Vivarin

The Scots love their Buckfast TonicWine, a fortified wine spiked with caffeine, made by Benedectine monks. It is also known as "'Who're you looking at?' wine."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

FYI for April 15th

Your sex change operation is now tax-deductible.

The Depressing News About Antidepressants

"Depression is a devastating, underdiagnosed and undertreated disease" but are drugs the best way to treat? An article from Newsweek disputing the benefits of antidepressants

No clowns, just lumbar punctures

The Lancet recently retracted an article that looked at the relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. It seems that Dr. Wakefield decided to recruit for his MMR vaccination study at his son's birthday party. I can't possibly imagine why everyone is in such an uproar about his research.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Power of Buzz

"A friend or a co-worker raves over a new restaurant or a cool pair of sneakers. Harmless right? Maybe not. You might have been the latest one drawn into a marketing campaign, that those inside the advertising business call 'word of mouth.' Or more simply, 'buzz.'"

Listen here to a segment of the WBUR show, "The Connection," on word-of-mouth marketing.

Love Herbs from Sweden

Since the last few posts so delicately pointed out female Viagra and sexual dysfunction, I was reminded of this commercial I saw years ago for "Niagara," which is supposedly a female version of Viagra as well. It is in drink form that is manufactured by a Swedish company. Now it is called "Nexcite," after some lawsuit that Pfizer filed against them back in the early 2000's.

According to Wikipedia, it is marketed as "Love Herbs from Sweden."

The love herbs listed in this concoction look suspiciously familiar as the ingredients in Red Bull, Monster, or Rock Star. But hey, it is imported from Sweden and costs $17.95 on Amazon.

Nexcite even has its own Facebook group. Therefore, it *must* be important stuff.

Good times!

Female Viagra

Rick, ask and you shall receive: There is, in fact, hope for women who experience "hypoactive sexual desire disorder" (PSDD), in other words, low libido. The potential cure currently being researched is flibanserin, which acts, lo-and-behold, as an antidepressant. See an article on flibanserin from the Guardian, November 2009. Is female sexual dysfunction another case of disease mongering? Discussion of this issue can be found on PLoS Med.

Tissue Rights?

A new book by Rebecca Skloot, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," recounts Lacks' struggle with cancer and the clandestine harvesting of her cancer cells for research. Twenty years later, a chance meeting between someone from the National Cancer Institute and one of Lacks' relatives revealed the profitability of her cells, assumed to be long gone. Read an article on this topic in the New York Times.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Where do bioethicists get their moral authority? "Ask almost any hospital physician about this and you will get, in reliable sequence, an eye roll, a sigh, and then an earful of anecdotes about swaggering bioethicists posing as arbiters of right and wrong," writes Sally Satel in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review.

Medical ghostwriting

Most academic health centers do not prohibit faculty members from signing onto ghosted journal articles, a new study has found.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Pharmaceutical Identity Disorder

Although Lovaza was approved by the FDA long ago (2004), perhaps it's worthwhile to note its uniqueness. A capsule containing 1g of omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) ethyl esters, intended to lower "very" high triglyceride levels, Lovaza is available only by prescription yet can be found at health food stores (according to Glaxo Smith Kline).

New drugs to watch this year

Barron's picks five drugs to watch this year, including a new diet drug, according to Pharmalot.

Thought leader crackdown

The FDA is cracking down on cosmetic doctors who praise unapproved drugs for fashion magazines. Read more in the Times.

Until death do us part...or in the event that you lose your coverage

Who cares about love and compatibility?! Some just want health insurance in their marriage.

Honestly, this makes perfect sense to me. Call me a "cynic" and you would be correct.

Missing the mark

Is there such a thing as a G-spot? The French are not particularly convinced. I wonder if there will ever be a Viagra equivalent for women...