In The Times this week, doctors were beseeching patients with only ordinary ailments like coughs and colds to stop bothering the general practitioner for antibiotics that won’t help anyway – or that they just don’t need, really – and let nature take its course, or in other words have a bit of faith in your immune system.
Very good advice. Mind you, it’s not so very long ago that it was GPs themselves who were being blasted for prescribing antibiotics for these very conditions, when they knew perfectly well that cold and flu viruses are not affected by them anyway and that the overprescribing of antibiotics leads to resistant strains of bacteria like the superbugs that have plagued hospitals in recent years. Not really the patients’ fault, considering that the GP is supposed to be the one with the specialist medical knowledge.
“GPs Hand Out Needless Pills” was the frontpage headline in the Daily Mail only a year ago (04.03.09) when Professor Michael Oliver, emeritus professor of cardiology at the University of Edinburgh warned that millions of healthy people were being ‘preventatively’ prescribed pills to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol or prevent diabetes when there was actually nothing wrong with them. He blamed a “tick-box culture” and also Health Service guidelines for encouraging the widespread use of such drugs.
The article also listed nasty side effects widely reported for such medications, and only a few months later (25.09.09) the Daily Express had “New Fears Over Heart Pill Taken By Millions” as its lead story as scientists at Nottingham university were given a quarter of a million pounds to investigate statin drugs that are prescribed to lower cholesterol. However, the dopey notion that Doc has a pill that will fix everything was reinforced by the very same newspaper when it had “Wonder Pill To Fight The Flab – new slimming drug works faster” splashed all over its front page (23.10.08).
Now before half of you go rushing off to look that one up so you can badger your GP about it, do bear in mind that statins were also hailed as ‘wonder’ drugs, a standard practice also known as ‘marketing’. Now they are under investigation for nasty side effects and according to Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s book The Great Cholesterol Con (John Blake Publishing 2007) they don’t prevent heart attacks anyway because cholesterol is not the real cause. Champix (Chantix) was hailed as a wonder drug too, but now it is under investigation for horrific side effects and it doesn’t work for at least 80% of smokers anyway in the long run, a far cry from the 44% success rate claimed for it in the short-term trials by Pfizer.
The Rise and Rise of ‘Preventative’ Medicine
As drug companies came to realise that there is far more return on investment if you put most of your research and development budget into ‘treatments’ for long-term ‘conditions’ rather than medicines that cure diseases, we have also seen new marketing strategies that create spectres of doom like the avian flu global catastrophe that never really happened, and of course the swine flu that killed far fewer people than seasonal flu strains in reality, but “worst-case scenario” stories of 165,000 dead in the U.K. alone had governments frantically ordering vast stockpiles of vaccines at enormous expense… was it a deliberate scam?
Then there are the side effects. Tamiflu has been associated with suicides and concerns were also raised about the cervical cancer vaccines by Dr Diane Harper who was involved in the clinical trials herself and stated in October 2009 that the jab was being “over-marketed” and could even be riskier and more deadly than the cancer it is designed to prevent, having been linked to 32 deaths in the USA even before it was made available to all teenage girls in the U.K. – once again, at enormous expense. Dr Harper is quoted in the Sunday Express as saying: “All this jab will do is prevent girls getting some abnormalities associated with cervical cancer which can be treated. It willl not decrease cervical cancer rates at all.”
It is clear that drug companies are successfully manipulating and maximising general fears of conditions or illnesses that people DO NOT HAVE to sell them – en masse – the drug equivalent of an amulet to ward off the fear. This amulet may not protect them anyway – it is impossible to test its future effectiveness, so this certainly is not “evidence-based” medicine – and some people who were perfectly healthy in the first place will inevitably be adversely affected by bad reactions.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that where you stand on the whole subject of the new ‘preventative’ business model of drug companies comes down to how you feel about drug companies. Two ‘Schools of Skepticism’ have emerged: the New Simple Scientism of Uncle Edzard Ernst which scoffs at the alternative field (where harm to the public is pretty rare really, but they can always find an exception or two with which to frighten people) but turns a blind eye to the enormous damage done by pharmaceutical drugs the world over… and the Pharma-Skeptics (such as myself) who find this recent shift of emphasis from treating real illnesses to warding off suggested possible future illnesses particularly creepy.
What About Nutritional Supplements, then?
Vitamins, minerals and plant extracts in pill form or similarly presented as if they are a form of ‘medication’ to prevent or treat one thing or another may also be regarded as suspect in this respect, and I have concerns about that too because of the extent to which the imagination can be driving the motivation to purchase things like that. If any are proven to be hazardous then they are withdrawn from sale however, which is very different from what happens with pharmaceutical drugs. All kinds of mayhem is required for a drug to be withdrawn from the market – instead it is ‘investigated’ but doctors carry on prescribing it! Prozac was eventually revealed to be no more effective than the placebo in the trial data, some of which was witheld from the FDA to get it passed as if it was genuinely effective. That is obviously fraudulent, yet it officially remains an “evidence-based” medicine (Ha, ha, ha, Professor Ernst! Somewhat undermines your posturing about CAM therapies, doesn’t it? Why don’t you write an article about that for a change? After all, you used to be actively engaged in the approval of medications when you were a member of the MHRA, it’s not as if you wouldn’t have an opinion!) And the biggest difference of all is that nutritional supplements are just available for general sale, the public are not being told by scientists and medical authorities that they should take them, nor are they being provided to the public en masse at the taxpayers’ expense. CAM therapies aren’t either: hardly any of that is funded by the taxpayer and medical authorities tend to ignore it completely. People are free to choose that or not choose it, those treatments certainly aren’t pressed on the general public by doctors. But increasingly, the ‘preventative’ drugs and vaccines are, and that is a whole New Order Of Medicine which for the drug companies is clearly the road to heaven, but where is it leading the rest of us? Are we all to be medicated from cradle to grave?
Professor Michael Oliver was right: lifelong health should be about a healthy lifestyle, not lifelong medication! If it ain’t broke don’t fix it Doc. The vast majority of us are born with an immune system already installed, a working pair of lungs and a suckling instinct. We are not born with a cannula sticking out of our little arms, are we? And unless there is some dire and pressing need, shouldn’t have one shoved in there either.