The Washington Post has an article out (an “exclusive”) about three drugs used to treat anemia that their investigative reporting seems to show are less effective and more dangerous than people thought. Here’s the dramatic intro from the WP’s article:
On the day Jim Lenox got his last injection, the frail 54-year-old cancer patient was waiting to be discharged from the Baltimore Washington Medical Center…. a nurse said he needed another dose of anemia drugs.
His wife, Sherry, thought that seemed odd, because his blood readings had been close to normal, but Lenox trusted the doctors. After the nurse pumped the drug into his left shoulder, the former repairman for Washington Gas said he felt good enough to play basketball.
The shots, which his cancer clinic had been billing at $2,500 a pop, were expensive.
Hours later, Lenox was dead.
This is a very interesting article, and it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Big Pharm is the bad guy, The Taxpayers are getting bilked, and innocent bystanders like Mr. Lenox are the victims. This could be a very important piece of journalism which will change the world in a positive direction, or it could be a misunderstanding of the way drugs and the drug industry and related medical practice all work. The implications, accusations even, that are being made are pretty serious. Drug companies engineered the pricing and dosage so that doctors would make money if they prescribed these drugs, and this kept the drugs flowing despite evidence that maybe they should be used less or not at all. Even “beaurocrats” and Congress were in on the conspiracy. Drug makers ….
…offered discounts to practices that dispensed the drug in big volumes. They overfilled vials, adding as much as 25 percent extra, allowing doctors to further widen profit margins. Most critical, however, was the company’s lobbying pressure, under which Congress and Medicare bureaucrats forged a system in which doctors and hospitals would be reimbursed more for the drug than they were paying for it.
… and so on and so forth.
I worry about this kind of finding for two reasons. First, all the usual bad guys are the bad guys and all the usual victims are the victims, so everyone is going to get all breathless and bent out of shape over this, even if there is really no story here. That’s one reason I worry. The other reason is that this could all be real…there could be a problem exposed here that needs to be fixed, but because it looks like the usual bashing of the medical profession, wagons will be drawn into circles and smart looking medical professoinals are going band together to convince, for example, the skeptical community that this is just a bunch of yellow journalism.
In other words, I suspect we are about to see an all out tribal war. What we really need, of course are facts and reasonable interpretations.
I’m looking forward to the input of Science Based Medicine bloggers on this.