By Antony Sammeroff
Michael Shermer, the famous skeptic, after researching why people believe in conspiracy theories, admitted that one of the reasons why is because *some of them are true*. People are herded into take extreme views on polarizing issues, for example being extremely against mainstream medicine or mounting an extreme defence of Big Pharma. The truth is usually nuanced. Drugs can save lives and drugs can be dangerous.
When the government is buying the drug no matter what and those companies are protected from liability against damages that may be caused by those drugs it ceased to be surprising that people may question whether what is being offered up to them is safe or not. One of the reasons why people believe is conspiracy theories about Big Pharma is because *some of them are true*.
A 2004 advert for Zoloft claimed over 16 million Americans were affected by social anxiety disorder. But here’s the thing, a study conducted by Pfizer (the manufacturer) discovered that participants did a lot better overcoming social anxiety with “exposure therapy”, including counselling about their symptoms with a primary care doctor with homework to learn how to identify and break through social habits and fears, did better that people who took their drug.
When The Upjohn Company (now Pfizer) developed Minoxidil, a drug that was originally manufactured to lower blood pressure. They found that it could grow back hair in some balding patients they simply switched the marketed effect for the so-called “side effect” and they had a drug for balding which just so happened to lower blood pressure.
The ALLHAT Study (The Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attacks Trial), was intended to compare the effectiveness of four drugs in preventing complications form high blood pressure. It was originally intended to continue for between four and eight years but part of it was stopped prematurely because those participants assigned to Cardura (manufactured by Pfizer) were developing significantly more cardiovascular complications than those taking a diuretic. At the time the results were published in JAMA about $800 million worth of Cardura was being sold each year – but the diuretic was proving more effective at preventing high blood pressure complications at a seventh of the cost. Taking advantage of the fact that most doctors weren’t aware of the research, Pfizer hired damage-control consultants. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) issued a press release recommending doctors “discontinue use” of Cardura, but mere hours later downgraded its working to “reassess”. Could this be something do do with Pfizer contributing more than $500,000 a year to the ACC?
Companies commonly use positive results from head-to-head trials to encourage doctors to prescribe their drug rather than a competitor’s. When the authors of the Journal of Psychiatry survey looked at the trials, they found a curious thing: In five trials that were paid for by Eli Lilly, its drug, Zyprexa, came out looking superior to Risperdal, a drug made by the company Janssen. But when Janssen sponsored its own trials, Risperdal was the winner three out of four times. When it was Pfizer funding the studies, it’s drug, Geodon, was best. In fact, this tendency for the sponsor’s drug to come out on top held true for 90 percent of the more than thirty trials in the survey.
A 2017 article noted that “prices for U.S made pharmaceuticals have climbed over the past decade six times as far as the cost of goods and services overall.” In a famous case Mylan was able to increase the price of the EpiPen by more than 450%, adjusting for inflation, between 2004 and 2016 – despite the epinephrine in each injection costing only around $1 – because they were the only legal supplier of the product. This example, while extreme, is unfortunately not exceptional. Pfizer, Biogen, Gilead Sciences, Amgem, AbbieVie, Turing Pharmaceutical, Envizo, Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Jazz Pharmaceuticals (to name a few) all seem to have benefited from price gouging on monopoly healthcare products.
The Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer – having bypassed the usual 5-10 years of safety testing – may well be completely harmless, but so long as this kind of tomfoolery continues to be common within the medical establishment we can expect evermore people to be labelled, or even self-identify, as anti-vaxx.