Monday, February 9, 2009

Fibromyalgia and the Problem with Dissing Pharma

The Washington Post today published an AP report called Drugmakers' push boosts 'murky' ailment. Though the AP's Matthew Perrone's piece is not without some balance, you get a sense of where the article leans through the title. When it comes to heath care, the media loves a few things: medicines that are scary and can harm you, the next miracle cure or diet, and of course big bad pharma.

The article reports on how drugmakers Eli Lilly and Pfizer donated more than $6 million to nonprofit groups for medical conferences and educational campaigns of fibromyalgia, a disease that that affect 6 to 12 million people in the U.S., mostly women, and it not well understood. Because of this, there are some that are even skeptical that fibromyalgia is a real medical condition.

The focus of the article is that the drugmaker's donation is not out of good will or charity, but to boost the sales of their drugs for this "murky" condition. They state that $6 million is nothing compared to the $125 million or so that each company spent on direct to consumer advertising or the $300 million dollars in sales that the companies made.

All these numbers may be true, and there is no question that pharma is not a charitable foundation. They are for-profit companies and seek to make a profit. The problem is that despite limitations in our understanding of this disease, fibromyalgia is a real illness. Just because we don't know what causes it, doesn't mean it is not a disease. In addition, the drug company's medications actually work. Both drugs have been approved by the FDA because they show some improvement in pain compared to placebo in randomized clinical trials. For certain patients suffering with this disease, these medicines have changed their lives for the better.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia is a real condition. The millions of people who suffer with fibromyalgia consume health care resources to a similar extent to patients with other chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension. I know the misery that some of my patients suffer with, and a quick Google search turns up a ton of bloogers such as fibromyalgia diary blog, The Fibromyalgia Research Blog , an blogger and a community on revolution health. I doubt these folks have been provided hidden funding from evil pharma to promote a disease in order to raise profits.

Though this condition is still not understood, there is little research in this area compared to other chronic diseases. According to the The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association (AFSA) in 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expected to award $393 million to study hypertension compared with the $9 million it planned to award for researching fibromyalgia. Why aren't more research dollars being spent on fibromyalgia? If pharma not only provides treatments for this condition, but also funds research and advocacy groups, should we really crucify them for this?

Health care costs are through the roof, and in order to decrease the costs of prescription drugs we will need to work with the drug companies. However, like it or not, pharma supports most of the research for therapeutics and funds a huge amount of education. Though it would be nice if funding for research, advocacy and education came from less biased sources, do you really think the government or tax payers are willing to fund this, especially now during one of the worst economic crises in history? You can't have your cake and eat it too. The media should certainly criticize pharma (or any corporation) when they do something wrong, but lay off them when the do something right.

1 comment:

Tina, Wisconsin said...

Supply and demand is the only reason a product sells. Sadly, fibro patients are desperate to releave their pain so the will try almost anything that will give them a reprieve from the pain, even if only temporary. However, medication is only a solution to a symptom not the base problem. I am married to Fibromialgia. My husband was diagnosised 7 years ago. I know his "type". I find that the typical sufferer with fibro has a type A personality. They are high-strung, perfectionistic, overachievers, love control, and are not happy with letting go and letting life happen. They are also the last to admit that perhaps they are depressed. They feel they are in control of their emotions and depression is not "controllable". With economical situations the way they currently are I feel we have only begun to see Fibromyalgia's rate increase. The psychology and medical professions need to come together on this issue and work together. I know this is not common but neither are the issues of fibro. Pills are temporary. They should be able to get to an answer not just another day. Pharmaceutical companies make money selling their wares. They would prefer there to be no cure. We should not be looking to them for the answers! Trained professionals in the field of the mind and body need to step up to the plate and be honest with their findings! No one likes to hear "It's in your head" But, when the pain is caused because of the bodies need to release the stress then that needs to be heard! Step up to the plate guys! Stop sholving pills and expect there to be a cure. There won't be until the mind is happy with the body and body with the mind. Until then the Pharmaceutical companies are going to make a bundle pumping out drugs to those who are desperate for relief. A big task but with todays connections this should be possible! Those of us married to fibro have faith in you and are hoping for a better future for our loved ones.