Conflicts of Interest Affect Government Drug Recommendations

The October 16, 2004 edition of the USA Today carried a story that exposes the vast conflicts of interest many government doctors have in their capacity of making recommendations that affect the health of the public.

The story starts by exposing that a number of the famous doctors who advised the government recently on new cholesterol guidelines for the public, were also closely tied to the companies that make the cholesterol drugs. The USA Today article noted that eight of the nine doctors were making money from the very companies whose cholesterol-lowering drugs they were urging more Americans to take. Two of the doctors even owned stock in the companies. Two others went to work for drug companies shortly after working on the cholesterol guidelines. Another was a senior government scientist who moonlighted for 10 companies and even serves on one of their boards.

Dr. Scott Grundy, a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center cardiologist who headed the cholesterol panel, noted, "The government is not producing drugs. All the big statin trials have been paid for by the companies." This brings into question the motives behind recommendations where those recommendations could benefit the very doctors who work for the government and are making those recommendations.

The article notes that the drug industry spent $2 billion in 2001 on events for doctors. This figure was double the amount they spent just five years ago. Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, writes in his new book, "On the Take", "The time has come to ask whether all of the money floating around medicine has created a pattern of corruption."

The USA Today article did interview a number of the doctors on the panel. They all admitted having ties to the drug companies but stated that it did not affect their recommendations and that the money they received was in most cases minimal.

The article also interviewed a number of other doctors who had no ties to the drug companies and said they would be more than willing to serve on the recommendation panels. Dr. Frank Gold, who in 30 years as a cardiologist has taken no consulting or lecture fees from industry stated, "I'm squeaky-clean," he says, and "would jump at the opportunity" to serve on a