News that Is Making Me Crazy

3 stories in the past couple of days scare me about the health-care information we, the public, are receiving.

Scare #1

Have you heard how a medical study on the antidepressant Paxil hid the fact that Paxil is not effective and can lead to suicidal thoughts in children? Did you hear how a drug company used that study (missing 2 key points) to sell millions of dollars of drugs? The study has been been questioned for more than 10 years, challenged by leading scientists and now shown in an article published in the renowned BMJ that the study results are misrepresented but it is still used to justify prescribing Paxil to children.

Thanks to an intrepid team of 7 scientists we now can all access information from the BMJ article on the site: Restore Study 329. The team of 7 are part of an initiative called RIET (restoring invisible and abandoned trials) sponsored by BMJ, PLOS and additional researchers. According to the BMJ article, “Invisible trials are those that have never been published. Abandoned trials are unpublished trials that sponsors are no longer actively working to publish or published trials that, although documented as misreported, have not been corrected by the authors.” Drug trials are most often abandoned or unpublished because the results weren’t what the drug company wanted. The lost information can lead to false conclusions about a drug’s effectiveness or safety.

The best news I’ve heard all week? The RIET team is continuing their work digging into the original data on many more studies.

Scare #2

Guess what? When your kidneys age they don’t work as well. Unfortunately, the (most often) natural decrease in functionality due to aging has led to more than 70% of all US seniors being told they have “chronic kidney disease.” According to a New York Times article, “The lifetime risk of kidney failure in the United States is 3.6 percent for whites and 8 percent for African-Americans, one widely cited study found.” If you’re a senior, or care for one, who has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease based solely on the GFR (glomerular filtration rate) test, check with your doctor about the actual risk of kidney failure.

Scare #3

Here’s a way to make millions — assuming you have $55 million to start with. Find a drug that is nearly forgotten and has a very limited use. Buy it. Then raise the price to whatever you want.

I wrote about this recently: (Who Pays For the Profit on Drugs?). I bring it up again because an egregious example has come to light. Turing Pharmaceuticals was recently started by 32-year-old Martin Shkreli. He bought a 62-year old drug, Daraprim, this past August 10th. Daraprim is used to treat a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, which the Times defines as, “a parasite infection that can cause serious or even life-threatening problems for babies born to women who become infected during pregnancy, and also for people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients and certain cancer patients.”

The drug was available for just over $1 a pill a few years ago. Daraprim was sold and re-sold with each company raising the price. Turing got it and they raised price from the current $13.30 to $750 per tablet. With an estimated 100 pills needed to treat toxoplasmosis the price for treatment just jumped from $1,330 per patient to $75,000 per patient. Ouch.

What improvements did Turing make in the drug? What breakthrough research was conducted? None. It’s the same drug that’s been used for 62 years. Shkreli claimed on Bloomberg TV that Turing Pharmaceuticals is giving away 50% of Daraprim to those who can’t afford it. He also claimed that the profits are being used for research to produce a better drug for toxoplasmosis. We’ll be watching.

In the meantime why isn’t a generic offered? I challenge any drug entrepreneur company to topple this game of “who dares to name the highest price?”

Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne Robotti founded MedShadow Foundation in 2012. Learn more about Su and her mission.

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