The Whole Truth About Medicines

independent health journalism

When you see a news story or read an article about a drug on a website or TV or in a magazine that has ads for that drug, how independent do you think the facts are in that offering? If a drug company is paying to advertise, will that website, magazine or broadcast openly warn you of the medicine’s risks? Common sense tells you that advertising affects whether the whole truth is being told. 

If your doctor is paid to give a talk about a new medicine, will that make the doctor more likely to prescribe it for you? Yes. A $20 lunch from a drug representative leads to higher prescribing rates from the doctor, according to research. 

Why You Should Care About Side Effects

“Take your medicine, you’ll feel better.” Sounds reassuring, doesn’t it? But more and more of us are beginning to question the pills, the injections, the procedures. We wonder, what does a healthy life look like? 

Since the introduction of penicillin in the 1940s our society has believed in handheld miracles. Early chemical medicines were lifesavers; before them, people could and did die of a scratch. Insulin saves the lives of millions of diabetics every day. 

As a society we believe in drugs. And we trust them. Despite the ads on television that race through side effects ranging from rash to death, we believe that all medicines have a net benefit. Sure, there may be some side effects, but those pills will cure my ills, so it’s worth it. But is it? More and more of us are asking, are all these pills a good thing? 

Side Effects Are Life Effects

Drugs taken as prescribed will very often cause mild, manageable side effects but they can occasionally trigger severe side effects (ADRs, or adverse drug reactions). Each year in the United States, about 1 in every 250 Americans, or 12.8 million people, go to a hospital emergency department because of an adverse drug event. 

Here are the drugs most likely to send you or your loved one to the emergency room

Medicine Can Help, Heal or Harm

We started MedShadow because we know that the side effects of medicines are too often glossed over and played down. But side effects can affect your quality of life and they can kill. That may sound like an overstatement, but it’s not. Yes, side effects of medicines are the fourth-leading cause of death in the US. 

I founded MedShadow because I was harmed by a medicine. When I was 14, I learned that I would never be able to conceive or carry a child, because when my mother was pregnant with me, her doctor prescribed a medicine called DES (diethylstilbestrol). Millions of pregnant women were given this drug. (For more information about the synthetic estrogen DES, go to the member-supported nonprofit DES Action.)

Many years later my husband and I took guardianship of our nephew. He was 12 and both the school and a medical specialist in ADHD told us he needed to be on Ritalin. There are many people who have benefited greatly from Ritalin, but we wanted to try to work with his nutrition, his habits and counseling. We were able to get in depth cognitive testing that helped identify some learning issues that we could address. For our nephew it worked and we were able to avoid using a medicine that has a lot of side effects. 

Today, MedShadow protects lives by making the hidden and minimized risks of medicines visible, so that you have the facts to make truly informed decisions about the risks, benefits and alternatives to medicines.

At first we focused on prescription medications, and then expanded to cover over-the-counter drugs, nutritional supplements. We also write about which substitutes are available for certain medicines. Some alternative therapies are proven more effective than drugs. Lifestyle changes can ward off and even reverse the course of some diseases. Nutrition can fuel a healthy life.  

Health news and information is especially difficult to get right — medical studies are written using complex and confusing terms. The results of virtually every study are not conclusive and must be taken in context with previous studies. 

Our job is to do that work for you, to help you understand what the study means for you and your family. We talk to doctors, patients and scientists so that we get the entire picture, for you.

These days people talk about “independent journalism,” and we agree that health journalism needs to be independent. However, 15 billionaires and six corporations own the majority of US media outlets. The biggest media companies also tend to own the biggest websites. One in four people look for health information on free websites. Almost all websites and news outlets carry ads for drugs. 

We don’t consider websites and news outlets that run ads “independent news.” No billionaire or pharmaceutical company with their own agenda is limiting or dictating what we write about. 

What to Know About Our Articles 

  • MedShadow has a strict “no pharma money” policy. All of our writers are professional health journalists or are telling their personal health story. None of our journalists or personal writers work for or accept assignments from pharmaceutical companies. 
  • Our writers are required to make sure that the doctors they interview do not work for or accept gifts from pharmaceutical companies. Our writers meet with patients who have taken the meds, some without trouble, some who had adverse events  caused by the drug. 
  • Our major articles are reviewed by our MedShadow Medical Advisory Board. None of our board members works for or receives grants from pharmaceutical companies. 
  • We have a policy that every member of MedShadow Foundation’s board be free from pharmaceutical conflicts of interest.

Pharma and Payments to Doctors for Prescriptions 

It’s a sad truth that some doctors accept direct payment from drug companies. Novartis paid a settlement of $678 million in 2020 to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Justice Department. Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “For more than a decade, Novartis spent hundreds of millions of dollars on so-called speaker programs, including speaking fees, exorbitant meals and top-shelf alcohol that were nothing more than bribes to get doctors across the country to prescribe Novartis’s drugs. Giving these cash payments and other lavish goodies interferes with the duty of doctors to choose the best treatment for their patients and increases drug costs for everyone.” 

As part of the settlement, Novartis admitted and accepted responsibility for certain conduct. Novartis isn’t the only drug company that has faced such lawsuits and fines, but companies continue to do it and, worse, doctors continue to take the money. 

The scary fact about today’s health news media

The Covid pandemic has shown us the harsh and painful consequences of health information being manipulated or misused to serve political or economic agendas. People are confused and don’t know what source to trust. The concentration of influence and the shrinking space of broadcast, print, and radio–particularly local and independent–also coincides with an ever-expanding world of digital news and social media spaces driven by advertising algorithms. 

When it comes to our health, these trends are especially worrying. How can we trust news about our family’s medicine from the same sources that are selling it or being funded by its makers? Can we count on unskewed evidence or rich nuance on medication safety and side effects from a health site that counts shareholder profits  above readers? The alarming fact is that today’s number one source of online health information, WebMD, is owned by a private equity firm and is valued at over $3 billion based on its ability to sell products through advertising.

Why You Can Trust MedShadow 

MedShadow is a nonprofit and does not accept support from pharmaceutical companies. Independent and reader-supported health journalism is more critical than ever before. We are on a mission to provide you and your family lifesaving, life changing health news and information through our balanced and trusted reporting. 

You deserve health facts independent of pharma control. You deserve MedShadow


Suzanne B. Robotti

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


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