The FDA requires each new drug to undergo rigorous testing and stand up to scientific scrutiny, a process that is designed to protect consumers by thoroughly examining the effects of new medications before they are available to the public. But few people stop to realize that these studies which are mandated by the FDA, are actually funded by the drug companies themselves, clearly a conflict of interest.
Big Pharma has so much influence in the field of scientific research, that the professionals who depend on peer-reviewed studies, i.e. doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, etc., prefer to read meta-analyses as a way to ensure objectivity. These meta-analyses combine evidence from multiple studies to weed out studies that produced irregular or uncommon results. In this way, the meta-analysis is regarded as the purest form of research and is heavily relied on by medical professionals. But, again, if Big Pharma has essentially infiltrated the research industry to the point that the majority of studies are being skewed, even a meta-analysis is unreliable.
Take for example Study 329. GlaxoSmithKline funded Study 329 between 1994 and 1998 and the results showed that Paxil was safe for teenagers. This study was published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), a well-respected and peer-reviewed journal. It was later found, however, that the authors had downplayed the negative findings and that GlaxoSmithKline had actually hired a PR firm to ghost write the article! Paxil actually clearly increases suicidal thoughts and impulses among teenagers and this effect was downplayed in the article and not even addressed in the conclusion (the most-read section of a scientific study).
A recent study which examined 185 meta-analyses discovered that one third of the studies were written by Pharma industry employees. While it was known that Big Pharma funded individual studies, it was NOT known the extent to which they funded meta-analyses; which have been the core of evidence-based medicine all along. While a third of the meta-analyses were directly funded and written by Big Pharma, another 60% were written by university-affiliated researchers with conflicts of interest; many of which were not reported as required.
The consequences of this type of “independent research” are far reaching and in some cases fatal. Underreporting the suicide risk associated with Paxil use among teens has cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Studies written by industry employees were 22 times less likely to report negative statements about the drugs. Studies sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry reported favorable outcomes 78% of the time compared to 48% in independently funded trials. Independent researchers have even reported that the journals themselves have ties to Big Pharma and are reluctant to even publish studies with negative outcomes.
Depression is a global and growing problem and in many countries it is the leading cause of disability. Antidepressants raked in $9.4 billion in the US alone in 2013. While antidepressants have become the go-to treatment for depression, there are many other options including talk therapy, improving nutrition and exercise routines, and mindfulness practices. These practices are more effective because they get to the root cause of the depression and produce long-lasting results.
It will be interesting to see what changes are made, if any, by medical professionals and university researchers now that it is known that Big Pharma not only has its dirty hands in individual studies, but also the gold standard of research: the meta-analysis. One thing is for sure, even well-meaning doctors can’t be trusted now that we know that the studies they depend on are tainted, falsified, and paid for 93% of the time.