A Year of Revelations in Health Care: Drug Dangers & AlternativesHelke Ferrie December 1, 2012
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. – Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860
The news discussed in this article isn’t actually new. What’s new is that this information is now seen as news. My October and November Vitality features gave examples of mainstream researchers and clinicians who are reporting on how toxic and useless most drugs are. My earlier articles showed only the tip of the iceberg.
What is definitely new is that those responsible for the spin are losing control. Something is stopping the Semmelweis Reflex, named after the Hungarian doctor who demonstrated that maternal deaths were reduced ten-fold when doctors washed their hands before delivering babies. Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) met with determined opposition led by then-leading gynecologist, Charles D. Meigs, who dismissed hand-washing because “doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen’s hands are clean.” Semmelweis responded, “The facts cannot be changed, and denying the truth only increases guilt.”
The Semmelweis Reflex is in evidence whenever established norms are reaffirmed in spite of contradictory evidence. It is also called “confirmation bias,” i.e., when only confirmatory evidence is reflexively sought to silence contradictory facts. Psychologists refer to “cognitive dissonance” to describe the emotional pain caused by irreconcilable conflicting information: you may believe vaccines are good, but you also read the vaccine manufacturers’ list of toxic preservatives and now what? Or you may try calming your fears about a drug – which is under attack from international class action lawsuits because of many reported deaths – by reassuring yourself that your doctor must know what he/she is doing. Accepting the possibility that doctors do not necessarily know what they are doing causes mental indigestion.
This year it was challenging to keep up with the flood of revelations and the amazing reversals in many mainstream medical attitudes.
THE WEB OF PRETENSES THAT IS MODERN ‘HEALTH CARE’
For the first time, Consumer Reports investigated hospital safety this year. And the British Medical Journal informed readers that only 11% of all current medical treatments used in North America and Europe can be shown to be beneficial – the rest is likely to lead to harm, accounting for the roughly 200,000 annual deaths from properly prescribed drugs in American hospitals; and the additional 1.4 million patients who are seriously harmed by pharmaceuticals in the U.S. alone. Altogether more than three million deaths are known to be related to prescription drugs, properly taken as prescribed. A statistical analysis in 2009 showed that in the U.S., deaths from pharmaceutical drugs now annually exceed those from traffic-related accidents.
What’s newsworthy here is the fact that the miracle cures which modern medicine kept promising decade after decade have been revealed as nothing more than marketing spin. Most standard drugs, diagnostic tests, therapies, and preventive protocols are saturated with the stench of fraud, consumer exploitation, and coercion spun from fear-mongering and even the outright invention of diseases – as if we don’t have enough of them already!
The image that comes to mind is the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, her dog Toto, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodsman arrive in the throne room of the great Wizard of Oz. Toto knocks over the screen behind which hides an insignificant fellow who had pretended for so long to be Oz the Great and Terrible and who now admits: “I’m a humbug”. He explains how he became hopelessly entangled in a web of pretenses. “No… I’m a very good man,” Oz tells Dorothy, “I’m just a very bad Wizard.” (Let’s add that to the Hippocratic Oath to help doctors remember that they may be good people but definitely are always lousy wizards.)
Donald W. Light and Joel R. Lexchin from Princeton and York universities, respectively, performed a remarkable equivalent of Toto’s revelatory action this year. It was published on August 7 in the British Medical Journal under the title “Pharmaceutical research and development: what do we get for all that money?” The authors examined the so-called innovation crisis in drug development and found that it is a total myth.
Even Pfizer, now the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, stated so in 2005 showing that drug innovation (as defined by the industry, not as the patient experiences it) has proceeded at roughly the same pace since 1970. While it is perfectly true that not many new active synthetic molecules have been developed over the past four decades, lots of drugs came to market with no clinical advantage over older non-patented drugs.
Between 1978 and 1989, only 34 (15.6%) of the drugs on the market were judged by independent investigators to be of therapeutic usefulness. Examining approximately the same period, the industry itself (!) concluded that only 11% of their products were innovative and clinically useful. All independent reviews covering that same four-decade period put it the other way around, stating that between 85 and 90% of all new drugs had few or no clinical advantage at all. Talk of humbug!
The U.S. National Science Foundation looked at just how much of the billions upon billions of Big Pharma revenues are actually used for research and development. It boggles the mind to learn that only 1.3% of all that money goes to research and development. Instead, most of those huge revenues go to marketing (e.g., $4 billion annually just in free samples and gifts to doctors, who also get about $20,000 per patient they enroll in drug trials).
The actual cost of searching for new drugs is borne entirely by the taxpayer. So huge amounts of our tax dollars go toward the development of drugs that neither cure nor prevent death, and are actually the cause of thousands of deaths annually – in fact we pay for our own leading cause of death (first for research and then at the pharmacy) and also help bankrupt Medicare which is swamped with the increasing tide of disabling drug side effects.
In their report, Light and Lexchin then zeroed in on what is supposedly new. Turns out that over the past three decades, Big Pharma has fine-tuned its manipulation of governments to achieve more and longer patent protection for drugs that mostly don’t work and tend to do harm. Governments also protect Big Pharma from free market forces such as competition from generic manufacturers. Thus, Big Pharma is constantly rewarded for bad or useless drugs under the pretext of serving the public interest.
- On October 18, Maclean’s Magazine reported on Oakville MP Terence Young’s address to the Canadian Senate. He described the situation in Canada like this: at least 20,000 die annually in hospitals from properly prescribed and administered drugs; about another 150,000 are victims of serious side effects from the 4,852 prescription drugs Health Canada allows on the market. Indeed, in 1997 Big Pharma replaced Canadian citizens as the “client” of Health Canada which is now mandated to “protect trade secrets”. Therefore, with perverse logic, the Health Protection Branch changed its name in 2000 to Marketed Health Products Directorate.
MP Young has now tabled a Bill that calls for the establishment of an Independent Drug Agency wholly responsible to the public, not to industry. That is a truly great idea. However, he works for the wrong boss: Stephen Harper promised similar reforms in 2004 (I was a recipient of his letter), but has since joined forces with Big Pharma, as we all saw during the public uproar over the proposed changes to the Food and Drugs Act (e.g., Bill C-51). Now the Harper government has even fast-tracked the drug approvals process and removed virtually all safeguards against harm.
But, wait! People aren’t stupid and not all medical research is controlled by Big Money. Not everybody is looking for illusory confirmation of the status quo. Some are willing to cut through the B.S. That a Conservative MP tells truths that fly in the face of his party’s policies is a shining example. Here is some more to warm the cockles of our hearts this Christmas.
- On November 12, the Annals of Internal Medicine published an analysis of 20 randomized controlled studies on the use of probiotics to control and prevent those nasty hospital bugs, Clostridium difficile. (Ontario had recorded 75 outbreaks in 47 hospitals between 2009 and 2011.) Using probiotics and yogurts reduces such events. “Probiotics are not a magic bullet, but these results suggest… certain yogurts… may be vastly under-used in nursing homes and hospitals” said lead author, Dr. Bradley Johnston, a scientist and assistant professor at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. He looks barely older than my grandchildren and brought to mind the observation by physicist Max Planck: “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
- The current sabre-rattling about mandatory vaccination got a terrific body blow from prestigious mainstream and independent reviewers, the Cochrane Collaboration. They reviewed all the world’s published and unpublished literature on flu vaccine effectiveness and found that it isn’t effective after all. This must have sent Big Pharma into overdrive to defend this vitally important sacred super-cash cow. Public health authorities in BC proclaimed the flu vaccine 60% effective and alleged that all the major medical journals worldwide are calling for mandatory vaccination, especially for health care workers.
Cochrane’s vaccine expert, Tom Jefferson, published a response in the Vancouver Sun (November 12) stating that there isn’t a shred of evidence to support BC’s “ideologically driven policies,” pointing out that no records of flu-related deaths are kept and hence touting flu vaccines as saving lives is pure fantasy. He also demanded proof for those alleged journal calls for mandatory vaccination, stating there are none whatsoever published! Jefferson observed, “many things work in theory, but real evidence suggests they are not having the desired effect.” Up to 99 adults would have to be vaccinated before one was protected against the flu. Amazingly, there is also no evidence to support the belief that vaccination prevents person-to-person transmission. What the evidence does show, though, is that flu shots given to pregnant women have increased fetal deaths by 4,250% since 2009.
- Cancer medicine offered some surprises, too. The fact that workplace exposure to toxins can cause breast cancer was widely reported in the media. This was nothing new to Vitality readers (see list of my articles on this issue in the Sources), but it was new that the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation supported this information, reversing their decades-long silence on environmental carcinogens.
However, the nonsense about mammography saving lives continues in the media, but not in the science journals. On November 22, the venerable New England Journal of Medicine published a three-decade review by Drs Bleyer and Welch, surgeons and experts in medical statistics, on the effect of mammography on cancer incidence. The result: at least 31% of all cancer diagnoses were found to be false positives that resulted in unnecessary surgery, chemo, and radiation. In the U.S. in 2008 alone, 700,000 women were treated for cancers they didn’t have. What this NEJM article did not discuss, but is also published by experts like Swedish Right Livelihood Award recipient Samuel Epstein of the University of Chicago, is the increased risk of developing breast cancer from the radiation exposure caused by having regular mammograms.
- On November 14, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of two large randomized controlled studies designed to see if taking multivitamins reduces cancer incidence and cardiovascular disease. The surprise is not that vitamins did make a big difference, but that these trials were conducted at all and that the data weren’t fudged! Then I thought I was hallucinating when I read, in the straight-laced Medical Post on October 9, that “integrative” cancer therapy is becoming the norm in Canada as provincial governments fund acupuncture, nutrition, meditation, etc., for cancer patients and even refer to these therapies as “evidence-based!” Not too long ago, merely suggesting them as adjuncts to standard therapy caused doctors to lose their licences!
- The fight against junk food has taken a turn to cheer the most depressed pessimist: the Ontario Medical Association announced in October that disease-causing junk food must be fought just like the successful battle against cigarettes was, by taxing “high-sugar, high-fat, low-nutrient junk foods.” They attacked even industry advertising to children and want it outlawed. Three cheers for the OMA! Also, remember that in 1995 Toronto’s Dr. Carolyn Dean had her licence revoked by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for publicly discussing the science on how excessive sugar consumption causes diabetes. The revocation was based on a complaint from the Canadian Sugar Institute. (Google Glasnost Report 2001.)
Meanwhile, Europe’s Alliance for Natural Health showed that mega-vitamin intake is so safe that you are 900 times more likely to die from food poisoning and 300,000 times more likely from preventable medical injury. The U.S. Poison Control report still didn’t have any deaths to record for the 27th year running. Gore Vidal might be right here: “The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”
- Are we passing into that third stage that the self-evident Schopenhauer spoke of? Indeed, it seems that we begin to agree that putting toxic chemicals into people who are already sick is not a good business plan; that junk foods lead to medical emergencies; that life-supporting vitamins and probiotics can prevent disease and achieve a lasting truce between pathogens and us; that flu shots are harmful and expensive mythology. Evidence isn’t a matter of choice anymore, controlled by those who pay for the best evidence money can buy. As for protecting the public, those Wizards of Ottawa are found out to be downright silly: our government policies are embarrassing in their blatant disregard for medical science and mendacious support of Big Money. Wizards everywhere are turning into humbugs.
The British Medical Journal has a helpful website
Researchers Joel R. Lexchin and Donald W. Light provide ongoing information on http://www.pharmamyths.net Their BMJ article was published on August 7, 2012.
Alan Cassels, Seeking Sickness, Greystone, 2012
H.G. Welch, Overdiagnosed – Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, Beacon, 2011
A. Bleyer & H.G. Welch, “Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast Cancer Incidence,” New England Journal of Medicine vol. 367:1998 f, November 22, 2012
P. G. Gotzsche, Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy, Radcliffe 2012. The author is a member of the only truly independent mainstream watchdog of medical research, The Cochrane Collaboration, of whom vaccine expert Tom Jefferson is also a member and who is cited in this article regarding the spin on the flu vaccine. This complete review of all that is known on mammography and its dangers and unreliability appeared this summer.
S.S. Epstein, Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War, Baywood, 2005
S.S. Epstein, “National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society: Criminal Indifference to Cancer Prevention and Conflicts of Interest,” a report published 2011 available on his website
The report on MP Terence Young’s presentation to the Standing Committee on Health in Ottawa is in the October 18 issue of Maclean’s Magazine under the title “A National Embarrassment” by A. Kingston & J. Roberts. Go to MP Young’s website for more.
B. Johnston et al., “Probiotics for the Prevention of Clostridium difficile – Associated Diarrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov. 12, 2012
The Medical Post, “MDs debate merits of complementary cancer care” by R. Frei on October 9, 2012
The article by the Corchrane Colaboration scientists T. Jefferson was in the Vancouver Sun, November 19, 2012. His exhaustive report on the effectiveness of flu vaccines (or lack thereof) is available online from http://www.attentiallebufale.it or by Googling “Cochrane Collaboration + vaccine safety.” Title: “Influenzae – Reviewer, Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group and Cochrane Vaccine Field, 2012
The information on the 4,350% increase in fetal deaths from flu vaccines go to Vactruth.com, entry for November 23, 2012
The safety of vitamins over the past three decades: http://www.naturalsociety.com, feature on October 3, 2012
A. Saul, editorial in Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, vol. 25, number 4, 2010: “When Evidence is a Choice.”
J.E. Prousky, editorial in Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine vol. 27, number 1, 2012: “Toxicology of Vitamins.”
See http://www.mercola.com on November 5, 2012 for details on Consumer Reports on hospital safety, drug deaths, etc., The Consumer Reports article was published August 2012. The information on the safety of supplements comes from Alliance for Natural Health in the UK.
J.M. Gaziano et al. “Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cancer in Men, JAMA Nov. 14, 2012 p. 1871 ff
H. D. Sesso et al. “Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Men,” JAMA Nov. 7, 2012
Ontario Medical Review, October 2012, was dedicated to the issue of obesity and published the OMA Policy position on this subject.
H. Branswell, “Exposure to workplace chemicals can increase breast cancer risk,” Canadian Press, Nov. 19, 2012.
R. Smith & B. Lourie, Slow Death by Rubber Duck – How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life affects our Health, Vintage (2009) paperback 2010 (reviewed in Vitality by Helke Ferrie, September 2009)
M. Schapiro, Exposed – The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at State for American Power, Chelsea Green, 2007 (Vitality’s lead feature was on this book in its December 2007 issue)
T. Colborn et al., Our Stolen Future, Plume/Penguine, 1997
The information on doctors in Ontario who lost their licences for issues pertaining to junk food, acupuncture, nutritional support for cancer patients, environmental sources of cancer, etc., is found in “Glasnost Report 2001 – Google.”