Sunday, June 12, 2011


Friends, the more I learn, the more I realize what a deep mess our medical system is in. Large pharmaceutical companies, frequently referred to as Big Pharma, exert far too much influence on Americans today, much to our detriment. When I read the following article in an alternative newsletter I receive, I thought all of you would benefit by reading it. If it doesn't interest you, just take a pass!

The following information is reprinted with permission from Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing newsletter copyright Healthy Directions, LLC. To subscribe, visit

Dear Reader,

"The most entrenched conflict of interest in medicine is a disinclination to reverse a previous opinion."

This quote, which appeared on the cover of a recent issue of The Lancet, arguably the world's premier medical journal, is excerpted from an article by Drs. John S. Yudkin, Bernd Richter, and Edwin A.M. Gale entitled "Intensified glucose control in type 2 diabetes -- whose agenda?"

These three diabetes researchers criticize the blanket recommendation of aggressive use of oral drugs and insulin to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible in patients with type 2 diabetes. They report that the four major clinical trials evaluating this approach, which involved 27,000 patients, clearly demonstrate that "tight" glucose control has no effect on stroke, blindness, kidney failure, or death from cardiovascular disease or other causes. They also note that intensified therapy is linked with weight gain, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and impairments in quality of life "equivalent to a diagnosis of angina."

If this sounds familiar, it's what I've been telling Health & Healing readers for 20 years. I often feel like Lily Tomlin, who once said, "No matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up." It's gratifying to be vindicated in a respectable medical journal, yet I seriously doubt it will have any effect on the way doctors treat their patients with diabetes. After all, that would require them to "reverse a previous opinion."

The authors of this article place much of the blame on the "synergy" and financial ties between the physician organizations that set treatment guidelines and Big Pharma. They state, "The rising prevalence of diabetes...provide[s] fertile areas for the drug industry."

This is just one "fertile area" for the pharmaceutical companies in their insatiable quest to hook you. Another is the increasing prevalence of drug ads that bombard you every time you turn on your TV or open a magazine. With tactics like these, it's no wonder we've become a "Pharmaceutical Nation."

Pharmaceutical Nation

Slick, provocative ads for prescription drugs are as common as sales pitches for automobiles. A smiling, healthy middle-aged man throws a Frisbee to a jubilant dog on a beach to extol the virtues of an arthritis drug. A depressed, anxious woman miraculously becomes the happy center of attention of her family and friends, thanks to an antidepressant.

Some ads are designed to terrify. Diagrams showing how blood clots can form in the heart, travel to the brain, and cause debilitating strokes urge you to find out if you are at risk by calling for a free book -- courtesy, naturally, of a drug company. Very concerned, perhaps frightened, you make the call.

Big Pharma spends $5 billion a year on direct-to-consumer advertising -- twice as much as they devote to researching and developing new drugs. And why not? It obviously works. Profit margins in this industry are obscenely high. But the fallout from all this brainwashing is another story. 

A Word From Our Sponsor

It may be hard to remember when pharmaceutical companies didn't plug their wares on TV, but before 1997, this practice was severely limited. That was the year the drug industry, which had been lusting after direct-to-consumer advertising for years, convinced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that advertising drugs through broadcast media would be a valuable, educational public service.

The first pharmaceutical to capitalize on this promising new strategy was Claritin. In 1999, $137 million was spent peddling this allergy drug -- more than the advertising budgets of Budweiser or Coca-Cola! (Does anyone remember Claritin's "blue skies" campaign?) Physician visits to discuss allergies increased from about 13.5 million to 18 million that year -- and Claritin sales grew from $1.4 billion in 1997 to $2.6 billion in 2000.

As it turns out, the drug didn't perform much better than placebos! As John Abramson, MD, points out in his book Overdosed America, the manufacturer's studies showed that Claritin was only 11 percent more effective at relieving allergy symptoms than sugar pills. The minimum effective dose was 40 mg, yet they opted to go with a far less potent 10 mg product, even though it didn't work, so they could make their "claim to fame" that Claritin didn't cause drowsiness. This was a con job that even Bernie Madoff could have been proud of!

Other "success stories" from the early years include Glucophage, Lipitor, Viagra, Celebrex, and Prilosec -- some of history's highest-grossing pharmaceuticals. Today, we are inundated with provocative ads that paint prescription drugs as the answer to all our problems. Of course, advertisers are required to mention side effects, but they make sure that what sticks with the average viewer is the pain-free romp on the beach or the miraculous mood boost, not the heightened risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

The Dark Side of Drug Ads

It might surprise you to realize that only the United States and New Zealand allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers. There are good reasons for this near-worldwide restriction.

First, this commercial activity obviously drives up health care costs. These advertisements always promote expensive, newer, patented drugs -- never the generics that do exactly the same thing at a fraction of the cost. They also create increased overall demand for drugs, even when they're not needed. Between 1999 -- about the time direct-to-consumer advertising really took off -- and 2009, the number of prescriptions dispensed in the United States went from 2.8 billion to 3.9 billion, for an average of 12.1 retail prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in America. That's a 39 percent increase during a decade in which our population only grew by 9 percent. In essence, our government has given Big Pharma a license to harm us and get paid big bucks to do it.

Second, it destroys the doctor-patient relationship. Each ad has the ubiquitous tagline, "Ask your doctor if this medication is right for you," which translates to "Go get this drug from your doctor." Physicians often feel pressured by patients to prescribe advertised brand name drugs, when generics or no medications at all would be more appropriate. By "suggesting" the need for specific drugs, Big Pharma has essentially adopted the role of a doctor -- with a gigantic conflict of interest.

Third, it harms patients. Every pharmaceutical has adverse effects, but the newer, heavily advertised drugs have the skimpiest safety records and, thus, the greatest potential for harm. Real-life, prolonged use almost always reveals risks and dangers that cannot be teased out in short-term clinical trials -- they can only be realized after they've damaged or killed tens of thousands of patients.

Vioxx, a COX-2 inhibitor and cousin of Celebrex, is a case in point. Senior FDA scientist David Graham, testifying before a US congressional committee, stated that this drug caused 88,000 to 138,000 heart attacks, strokes, and premature deaths from 1999 until 2004, when it was finally pulled from the market. He equated this to "500 to 900 aircraft dropping from the sky...2-4 aircraft every week, week in and week out, for the past five years." All this due to a pill people took for knee pain...and our congressional leaders knew about it!

A Very Dangerous Industry...

In addition to the preponderance of pharmaceutical ads, I'm also struck by by the increasing number of frightening commercials by law firms offering to represent people who have been damaged by prescription medications -- including the some types of meds that are being advertised! Lawsuits are pending for drug-related birth defects, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and deaths caused by antidepressants, painkillers, cholesterol-lowering statins, diet drugs, contraceptives, and many more.

Pharmaceuticals are the most dangerous consumer products in modern society. Approximately 4.5 million visits to physicians' offices and emergency rooms every year are directly linked to adverse effects of prescription meds. And an April 2011 report by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality revealed that in 2008, 1.9 million patients in US hospitals (nearly five percent of all hospitalizations) had "medication-related adverse outcomes." We're not talking about illicit drugs or intentional misuse. These are "side effects of prescribed drugs that were taken as directed, unintentional overdosing by the patient, and medication errors such as incorrect prescribing and dosing."

To put this into perspective, every day nearly 13,000 people have adverse drug reactions severe enough to merit a trip to their doctor or to an emergency room. And 5,400 hospitalized patients are injured by medications that are supposed to help them. The hospital statistics are particularly alarming, as they represent a 52 percent increase over 2004. These institutions are the central focus of modern conventional medicine. If they get it so terribly wrong, clearly the whole system needs to be revamped.

And a Leading Cause of Death

A landmark study published several years ago revealed that there were 106,000 fatal prescription medication adverse reactions in US hospitals per year. As alarming as this statistic is, the actual number of drug-related deaths is far greater. First, this study only counted in-hospital fatalities. And second, such adverse events are grossly underreported. For instance, if a patient dies of a heart attack while taking an oral diabetes medication -- which dramatically increases this risk -- that drug is never listed as the cause of death. Avandia triggered 83,000 cardiovascular events and an untold number of fatalities before its withdrawal from the market. Think they were codified as "death from Avandia"? Not a chance. The truth is, if such adverse side effects were routinely taken into account, prescription drugs would be our leading case of death!

So, why does nobody seem to care? We are incensed by the carnage of war and natural disasters but totally insensitive to the deaths and suffering caused by prescription drugs. Just imagine the outcry if peanut butter, shampoo, or any other consumer item you see advertised in magazines or on TV killed hundreds of thousands of people. The first thing you would do is stop using the product. It's absolutely insane that Big Pharma pockets piles of money while causing so much death and destruction, all the while claiming that their drugs are precisely what you need to get healthy.

Don't "Ask Your Doctor"

Folks, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to resist the temptation to "ask your doctor" about drugs you see on TV or in magazines. As I hope I've made clear, the potential risks of prescription medications are far greater than the "benefits" these multi-million-dollar ad campaigns would have you believe.

It's not as if you don't have alternatives. For more than 30 years, we've been using natural therapies at my clinic to successfully treat tens of thousands of patients with a wide variety of health concerns. On occasion, we do use prescription drugs, but they are almost always inexpensive, non-advertised generics with long-term safety records. Not surprisingly, no drug representative has set foot in my office in nearly three decades. We both know it would be a waste of time. 


* Do your best to ignore the slick drug ads.

* If your physician prescribes a new medication, lobby for non-drug alternatives. If that's not an option, ask for an older generic drug and insist on starting at the lowest dose possible. Assume that any new symptoms you develop are related to the medication and point them out to your doctor immediately.

* To learn more about the drug-free therapies offered at Whitaker Wellness Institute, call 800-488-1500.

* To find a physician in your area who has a similar approach to medicine, visit

* An excellent book on the overuse of pharmaceuticals and the incessant greed of Big Pharma is Overdosed America by John Abrahamson, MD. It's available in bookstores, online, or by calling 800-810-6655.


Abrahamson J. Overdosed America. New York: Harper Collins; 2004.

Charatan F. US prescription drug sales boosted by advertising. BMJ 2000 Sept 30;321(7264):783

Gagnon MA, et al. The cost of pushing pills: a new estimate of pharmaceutical promotion expenditures in the United States. PLoS Med. 2008 Jan 3;5(1):el.

Lucado J, et al. Medication-related adverse outcomes in US hospitals and emergency departments, 2008.

Lundy P. Prescription drug trends. Kaiser Family Foundation. May 2010.

Sakar U, et al/ Adverse drug events in US adult ambulatory medical care. Health Services Research Online, 2011.