Monday, July 14, 2008

The Ties that Bind…and Corrupt

In recent months, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has shone a spotlight on the hundreds of thousands, in some cases, millions of dollars that drug companies have paid in speaking and consulting fees to prominent psychiatrists who failed to fully disclose these conflicts. Now, Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has widened his probe, investigating the American Psychiatric Association’s financial dealings with the pharmaceutical industry, according to Pharmalot and The New York Times.

As I reveal in my book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, the APA has long had a cozy and mutually beneficial relationship with the drug industry. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to the present, drug companies have paid the psychiatry profession’s trade association millions of dollars to sponsor industry symposiums at the APA’s well-attended annual meeting each year. In Side Effects, I follow the trail of money that led to one such industry symposium, which was sponsored by a large pharmaceutical company whose hot new antidepressant was being studied and touted by the same psychiatrists it was paying to speak at this APA affair. The moderator of the talk was none other than Dr. Alan Schatzberg, president-elect of the APA, who is himself under investigation for his financial conflicts of interest; see
my July 4 blog.

Also chronicled in my book are the longstanding financial ties between the drug industry and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the most powerful advocacy group for people with mental illness in the U.S. Not only do drug companies contribute millions of dollars to NAMI’s coffers every year, but as I reveal in Side Effects, Jim McNulty, the president of NAMI from 2002 to 2004, was earning thousands of dollars in speaking fees from the very companies who made the antidepressants he was talking up in lectures around the country. Yet NAMI members had no idea that McNulty was anything other than an unbiased patient advocate, because he never bothered to disclose these conflicts.

Given such a sorry record of collusion, it’s nice to see Congress, at long last, looking into the dark dank corners of drug research.

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