It all started innocently enough. A few weeks ago, I received a call from a producer of the “Dr. Oz “ show. She asked if I’d be willing to appear on the show to talk about issues that I addressed in “Drug Truths” – the safety of new drugs, the accusation that the pharmaceutical industry invents diseases, that people are over medicated, etc. I was told that Dr. John Abramson, author of “Overdosed America” would also appear. I had a vague familiarity with the show and understood it to be one which tried to educate the public on medical issues. Given that this offered the potential to get some of the points of “Drug Truths” out to a wide audience, I accepted the offer to appear on the show.
About 40 hours later, I walked out onto the stage of the “Dr. Oz” show and was stunned to see the backdrop – “The 4 Secrets That Drug Companies Don’t Want You To Know About”! This was not exactly the balanced discussion that I was (naively!) expecting. The show opened with the recent announcements by the FDA of 13 potential serious safety events recently identified with the anti-obesity drug, Alli. Yes, this drug has all sorts of side-effects (“anal leakage” for one!) and it is not very effective. But it has been in 40 MILLION patients. Doctors are aware of the risk-benefits of Alli, and must feel that their patients seriously need to lose weight to justify prescribing it. Instructive to me was the fact that the show’s staff put two Alli users in the front row of the audience and let them express their shock at this so-called hidden issue. How hidden could this have been given the broad publicity that this FDA pronouncement received?
The next 30 minutes continued along these lines. Some data was presented as absolute truths (“Statins are unnecessarily prescribed to women”) and I had to rebut them. This was an eye opening experience. There WERE areas that Dr. Abramson and I agreed: people need to watch their diet and exercise more; all drugs have side-effects; people shouldn’t take medicines unless all other efforts to treat the disease or condition have failed. But the painting of pharmaceutical companies as villains was both wrong and sad. These are the companies that produce important life-saving medicines.
You can judge for yourself. This episode is being broadcast on May 12.