Doctors behaving badly

by Stacey

There have been a number of articles in recent years describing a common and cozy relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. The deal usually looks like this: a drug company pays a doctor money, usually in the form of speaking fees at conferences, and the doctor in turn “teaches” his or her peers about using the company’s drug. Often the uses for the drug have not been tested enough to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration and are considered “off-label.” It is marketing in the guise of continuing education in the sense that the doctors in the audience may not be aware that the speaker is a shill.

Now the issue is becoming of concern to parents. The growing use of medication to treat behavior and emotional problems in children has prompted drug companies to turn their attention (and wallets) to pediatric psychiatrists. The NY Times ran this story last week highlighting a case in Minnesota in which a 12-year old girl who developed an eating disorder was treated with Risperdal, a drug approved for adult schizophrenia.

The girl’s mother was unaware at the time that the doctor who treated her daughter had received thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Johnson & Johnson, the company that makes Risperdal.

But what she also didn’t know was that scant research had been done to prove that Risperdal was a safe and effective treatment for her daughter’s condition. In fact, according to the article, the studies included as few as eight children, which would never be enough to pass muster with the FDA. As it was, the drug did help with her daughter’s eating disorder (increase in appetite is a known side effect of Risperdal) but the girl also developed a rare, painful nerve condition in her neck called dystonia that was also caused by the drug.

As parents we trust that the doctors who treat our children have only their best interest at heart. It is appalling to think that doctors are allowing themselves to be corrupted and in the process, putting children and families at risk.

Moreover, drug companies owe it to the kids who take their medications to do serious studies to find out the risks and benefits before thousands of children are exposed. Earlier this month, the FDA issued a statement to all makers of antidepressants to include a warning on the label that the drugs can cause an increase in suicidal thinking among children, adolescents, and young adults. For fully grown adults, the drugs do not seem to have this effect.

Just last night, my three-year old lay in his bed coughing from a cold. My husband asked if we should give him some medicine. I remembered a study I heard about recently that found that over-the-counter cough medicines are not effective and could cause children harm. I was grateful for that bit of insight. I wish there was more of it out there.



Filed under children's health, depression

3 responses to “Doctors behaving badly

  1. along those lines, check out this story from salon about an autistic teenager who goes down the rabbit hole (and back) after taking prescribed antidepressants:

    all of this makes me want to work on trusting myself in the face of medical advice. i have a tendency to defer to doctors instead of partnering with them.

  2. autumnbeth

    Reading this I said aloud ‘Oh my God’ at least three times. Back in the Early nineties when I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling (a career which I have not touched in 13 years) I worked in a mental health facility for about a year and a half. My job was to help habilitate and adults with schizophrenia. One of the saddest things I witnessed was the side effects from medications. So often these psychotropic drugs had debilitating physical side effects, causing extreme facial ticks. The scariest and saddest part about these side effects were that they were irreversible. They did not go away once the medicine was discontinued.

    To think that someone could spend years in med school and take the Hippocratic Oath – and still do this to a child is appalling.

    My own experiences with western medicine have not been so great. Having severe menstrual cramps since I was 11, I was treated with birth control pills, the depo provera shot and others since I was 12. These had numerous side effects. About a year ago, I finally turned to acupuncture to help with the pain and I have become hormone and med free. My new rule of medicine is: If it is broken I go to a doctor (western), anything else, try acupuncture (eastern) first.

    I don’t know how I would be with my own kids, but it is good that you have the insight to question doctors. We are on the age of the ‘super bug’ that was created by over use of antibiotics.

    Did anyone else experience the trend to ‘Wipe out Streph’ in the 70’s? I remember at school, every Friday we had a throat swab, and Monday results would come back. If you had streph you were not allowed to return to school until you had an antibiotic. I happen to be a carrier and spent numerous Monday afternoons at the doctor’s office waiting for my penicillin prescription. In a few years I was allergic to penicillin, but every now and again I get a whiff of something that smells like that pink chalky syrup and I about lose my lunch…

  3. First, holy shit Kristin, that article you linked to is unbelieveable. The writer mentions the NY Times article I wrote about – her son was taking the same class of drugs as the girl with the eating disorder. But her story is so much scarier.

    AutumnBeth, I did not go through the Wipe Out Strep campaign. How bizarre! Sounds like people were treating antibiotics like aspirin. I’m glad to hear you found a solution to your monthly pain. I think you’re right – western medicine is best for the broken stuff, not as good when it comes to chronic conditions.

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