Health News Review

Runaway medical marketing is the theme of two unrelated pieces this week by two different news sources. 

A joint project of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and MedPage Today offers a followup look at “What happened to the poster children of OxyContin?”  Excerpt:

“Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin in the late 1990s marked the beginning of the industry’s push of narcotic painkillers to treat long-term chronic pain – an area where the safety and effectiveness of the drugs remain unproven.

Sales of OxyContin have reached nearly $3 billion a year, making it the top-selling prescription pain pill in the country. Sales of all prescription opioids have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010.

Health and regulatory officials have declared a national epidemic as addictions to prescription painkillers have skyrocketed and fatal overdoses have more than tripled in the past decade. A U.S. Senate investigation – prompted in part by Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today reports – is probing financial relationships of drug companies and the doctors and organizations that have advocated for use of the drugs.

The story of the video is an example of how marketing trumped science and helped fuel the rapid increase in opioid use throughout the country.

The subjects who spoke glowingly of their experiences with OxyContin in the video 14 years ago offer a case history of sorts.

Two of the seven patients were active opioid abusers when they died. A third became addicted, suffered greatly, and quit after realizing she was headed for an overdose. Three patients still say the drug helped them cope with their pain and improved their quality of life. A seventh patient declined to answer questions.

The doctor who enlisted his patients for the video and played a starring role, now says some of the statements went too far.”

Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press reports, “Testosterone marketing frenzy draws skepticism.”  Excerpts:

“Welcome to the latest big marketing push by the nation’s drug companies. In this case, it’s a web page for Abbott Laboratories’ Androgel, a billion-dollar selling testosterone gel used by millions of American men struggling with the symptoms of growing older that are associated with low testosterone, such as poor sex drive, weight gain and fatigue.

Androgel is one of a growing number of prescription gels, patches and injections aimed at boosting the male hormone that begins to decline after about age 40. Drugmakers and some doctors claim testosterone therapy can reverse some of the signs of aging — even though the safety and effectiveness of such treatments is unclear.

“The problem is that we don’t have any evidence that prescribing testosterone to older men with relatively low testosterone levels does any good,” says Dr. Sergei Romashkan, who oversees clinical trials for the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health conglomerate of research centers.

Low testosterone is the latest example of a once-natural part of getting old that has become a target for medical treatment. Bladder problems, brittle bones and hot flashes have followed a similar path: from inconvenient facts of life, to ailments that can be treated with drugs. The rise of such therapies is being fueled by both demographics and industry marketing.

…”We really ‘medicalize’ seniors so much that they think the secret always has to be scientific,” says Dr. Nortin Hadler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has written four books on excessive medical care. “We need another perspective to understand the secrets to healthy aging, which by and large are not pills.”  “

(Photo/art credit:  Roland Gesthuizen on Open Clip Art Library)

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