Selling the pharma

Letters to the Boston editor, April 28, 2006
By EDITORIAL  |  April 26, 2006

Thank you for your well-researched cover story on the pharmaceutical industry’s corruption of medical research (“Med-school drug pushers,” April 14). I was disheartened last fall to read an article in a September issue of Annals of Internal Medicine that was little more than a sales pitch for Spiriva, from Boerhinger Ingelheim and Pfizer. I’m told that a prestigious journal such as Annals would publish such a study because they stand to make about $100,000 on selling reprints to drug companies, whose sales force then distributes the articles to doctors to help make the case for prescribing their product.

On a related note, the pharmaceutical industry has apparently influenced Governor Mitt Romney. When the Public Health Council (PHC) passed new regulations in December to prohibit the marketing of baby formula by hospitals, Romney stepped in, in February, to get them to rescind this regulation. The PHC did not cave in to Romney immediately, but will look at the issue again when they meet on May 23.

Big drug companies sell about 80 percent of the infant formula in the US, and they rely on hospitals to give new mothers company “diaper bags” at discharge, which markets their expensive brands. Not only does research show that this practice undermines breast-feeding, but moms who choose formula feeding end up spending about $700 more a year for these name brands over store brands. Romney wants to protect the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to continue to get hospitals to market high-priced formula by distributing these bags.

Baby formula drives up health-care costs, increasing money spent by MassHealth and by private-insurance companies. So Romney is championing health-care reform with one hand, but driving up health-care costs with the other.

These companies have huge resources, making it hard to avoid their influence both in politics and in research. For more information, and to sign our online petition, go to our Web site at

Melissa Bartick, MD
Chair, Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition

History lessons
Everyone seems to miss the real connection between both Iran and North Korea’s blustering and public declarations regarding their nuclear programs: fear of the US (see “Playing Craps with Iran,” April 14). After all, Bush labeled North Korea, Iran, and Iraq an “axis of evil,” called for regime change in all three, and then invaded and conquered Iraq.

The smart people in the White House seem to have forgotten the lessons of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. Athens attempted to impose democracy on its neighbors because it believed that such regimes were in its own interest. The actions of the Athenians inspired fear in other Greek city-states which slowly allied and ultimately defeated it. Athens at least was probably correct in its belief that its demos had more in common with the many poor of its neighbors than with the other cities’ aristocracies and oligarchies. But the American people, and especially its government, have very little in common with the poor huddled masses of the Arab and Muslim world.

Our new American Empire also inspires envy in old and effete imperial powers with long memories of their past glory, like Russia and France, who will work secretly to undermine us, as well as in resurgent old powers like China. The example we set today will be followed by others in the future. Do we really want to create a world in which bullying and the use of naked force are the paradigm for getting what we want?

Mike Christian

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