What the Pharmaceutical Industry Doesn't Tell You

Knowledge is power. Withholding knowledge is turn-over. This holds true for pharmaceutical companies among others. A study conducted by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) on pharmaceutical studies showed that most studies never get published.

Secrecy has hampered medical science for centuries. Take the Chamberlen family and their invention of the forceps. They managed to keep it a secret for a hundred years thereby depriving other doctors and their patients of its benefits to child birth. That was a case of withholding positive information which could have made a big difference for many patients. The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) in Cologne deals with negative information that is being withheld to harm millions of patients.

Staff of the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) has compiled 60 exemplifying cases in which the flow of information has been actively suppressed by the pharmaceutical industry. They evaluated hundreds of medical science items from journals and other sources; these items include studies on medication and medical appliances in psychiatry, pain management, cardiovascular treatments, skin diseases, cancer therapy, and infectious diseases. Accordingly, the study content may range from drugs or vaccines to medical devices such as ultrasonic devices or aids for wound care. The collection reads like a check list for a crime scene.

The phenomenon of active suppression of information has been named publication bias, a euphemism for fraud through selective publication of facts. This fraud happens on three levels. The higher level is the one where governments actively support the cover up. An analysis shows for 90 new drugs approved in the U.S. a total of 900 trials conducted and supposedly submitted to government agencies. But five years after approval, 60% of these studies were still not published.

On the second level, only selected results from studies are published by pharmaceutical companies. It is mandatory for researchers to keep a so-called study protocol. Before the start of any study, they have to write down which results they want to measure and how they will be evaluated. Comparisons of these original intents with later publications in journals show that in 40-60% of studies results are entirely omitted or the evaluations have been changed at a later date. This allows companies to present positive results in contradiction to the actual negative study result. The lack of publication of studies that have been directly paid for by the pharmaceutical industry reaches a staggering 94 percent. 

On the third level are so-called independent studies by universities. On this level, only 86 percent of the studies are not published. It has to be noted, though, that often the medical and pharmaceutical chairs at universities are sponsored by private companies, usually pharmaceutical ones. These ‘independent’ studies should therefore be reclassified and renamed as paid  for indirectly by the pharmaceutical industry.

This coy shyness and reticence in going public with study results has a direct impact on patients. Studies showing the damage caused by pharmaceutical products or proving their total inefficiency remain unpublished. The outcome of this policy is that doctors prescribe and patients use therapies that are completely useless and/or highly harmful (mostly and). Researchers estimate that in the 1980s, prescription medicine for heart rhythm disturbances cost ten thousands of lives due to the lack of publication of studies on dangerous side effects.

If you are reading this article as a user of natural remedies, don’t shout in triumph over the content of it. Producers of natural medicine are no better than their counterparts on the artificial side when it comes to publishing negative studies. Access the complete list of products, findings, and links to studies here; it was published in English.

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