When the panel of experts for the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association announced their new Cardiovascular Risk Guidelines on November 12th, they ignited a firestorm of controversy.
Almost immediately, the public questioned the integrity of the process, asking about drug company influence and potential conflicts of interest. The committee was quick to respond that less than half its members had any ties to industry and those that did never voted on key questions involving policy or risk assessment. That was supposed to reassure people that this task force was independent, objective and beyond reproach.
It turns out this was smoke and mirrors. The cynics and skeptics may have been right after all.
A new investigation into the background of the experts on the committee by Jeanne Lenzer in the BMJ (November 21, 2013) reveals that a “Majority of Panelists on controversial new cholesterol guideline have current or recent ties to drug manufacturers.”
Here’s the straight and skinny. Instead of less than half, the BMJ report notes that “eight of the 15 panelists had industry ties.” Most important of all, the chairman and one co-chair “had ties to the drug industry at the time they were asked to lead the panel.”
By severing his ties with the pharmaceutical industry at the time he started serving on the committee, the chairman thought he could get away with the answer “none” to the question of relationships with industry. In reality, however, Dr. Neil Stone had previously had financial relationships with six companies that made cholesterol-lowering drugs. Because the chairman of such a panel wields a lot of influence, this is a violation of the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines on conflict of interest. Even more worrisome, Dr. Stone voted on key issues, something that other panelists with industry connections were not supposed to do.
All of a sudden the committee’s claims of impartiality are thrown into question. Since recommendations by this panel will likely double the number of people who may be urged to take a statin-type cholesterol-lowering drug, questions about conflict of interest are distressing.
Many expert committees that dictate guidelines for doctors appear to be influenced by industry. That makes it harder for physicians and patients to trust the recommendations that are made. Dr. Steve Nissen has said that committee chairmen should not have relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. Listen to his interview with us to better understand why this is so critical to your health. There is a free podcast at this link.
What do you think? Does this new revelation change your opinion of the new cardiovascular guidelines?
Here is what others have shared in response to our earlier story: “How Modern Medicine Shot Itself in the Foot.”
“Thank you, Joe & Terry. I knew these guidelines were bogus when I first read them. The people whose research is funded by pharmaceutical companies are recommending policies that will lead to doubling the number of people taking the drugs. Oh, and these drugs are now losing patent protection so big pharma needs to sell more to maintain earnings momentum. Very suspicious.
“I took a statin for a couple of months several years ago. I got so sick, I truly thought I was dying. I hurt all over, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even turn over in bed without enormous and painful effort. I stopped the drug and, happily, my health returned. I consulted with a cardiologist in Chapel Hill to get the second opinion, and he confirmed that the drug was the problem.” Gene
“The shameful level on incompetency exhibited in this whole debacle is a sad, sad commentary on the state of medicine in the United States. Without making any accusations, it certainly appears that the committee that devised the ridiculous recommended guidelines had their pockets full of favors from big pharma.” Virtualguy
“Our physicians are held hostage by the pharmaceutical industry influence on best practices. I have refused statins since I first took them with disastrous results, but my endocrinologist is compelled to offer them to me over and over again because she will be considered not to be practicing proper medicine if she doesn’t. Recently had my genome sequenced and, lo and behold, I am intolerant of statins per my genetic phenotype, something I knew from experience but had to prove so I would stop getting pressure to take them.” C.S.
Drugs save lives. They can help cure us when we are sick. But drugs can also cause an incredible amount of suffering. Adverse reactions to medications are responsible for an alarming number of deaths each year. And drug interactions (incompatible combinations of medicines) are surprisingly common.
In our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them, we reveal little known secrets about these kinds of errors and equip you to protect yourself and your loved ones from deadly mistakes. Here is a link to our publications.