My compliments to journalist Carrie Peyton Dahlberg for her insightful and up-to-the-moment coverage of the previously secret pharmaceutical company payments to health care professionals ("Dollars for Docs," Sept. 15). As a pharmaceutical industry professional, I can assure the public that the dangerous practice of staging dinners and speaking engagements to access local drug prescribers may seem innocent but can and does result in very dangerous, even deadly consequences.
Ms. Peyton Dahlberg raised the highly-charged topic of "off-label" prescribing. Professionals interviewed admitted that drug companies, despite years of Department of Justice investigations and billion-dollar fines paid, continue this illegal practice. It is perfectly acceptable for doctors to prescribe any approved drug for any use they see fit. This practice represents doctors being innovative at the clinical level. Extraordinarily wealthy drug companies, lacking internal innovation despite billions in annual research and development investment, step over the legal line by encouraging doctors to treat illnesses and symptoms which have not yet been proven to respond to their drugs. Only in situations where drug company representatives can speak privately, out of earshot of others who could blow the whistle, can the industry continue to practice marketing by wink and nod, influencing prescribing patterns of local medical professionals with no evidence remaining behind to implicate them.
When will drug companies spend their cash to monitor side effects of their drugs at the many emergency rooms in our communities? No elderly patient who nearly dies after being prescribed a drug such as Risperdal for dementia (an "off-label" use), for example, has ever received an invitation to a fancy dinner -- or even an apology card. Unless families can find a lawyer willing to take on any of these billionaire Goliaths, drug companies hide safely behind skyscrapers full of highly paid lawyers.
This must stop.
Jackie Wellbaum, Arcata
I just finished reading the article about doctors and how they are influenced by drug companies. I am not surprised. I am a licensed acupuncturist who has been practicing in Humboldt County for over 16 years. I have successfully treated thousands of Humboldt County residents during this time. Acupuncture is highly effective, low cost and side-effect free. I should be overflowing with referrals from the other medical professionals in the county. Regrettably, I am not. And this article is a big explanation as to why. Doctors are choosing to medicate their patients rather than finding ways to help them heal. It is unconscionable to me that making a buck is more important than providing quality medical care. But that is why I am an acupuncturist and not an MD.
Acupuncture is the oldest system of medicine on the planet, far older than western medicine. Acupuncturists are able to treat almost any medical condition. I personally specialize in pain management, specifically low back pain and neck pain. But when do I get the referral? After the back surgery was unsuccessful, and the drugs didn't work. I am the last resort after everything else has been tried. How come I'm not the first? It is far easier to treat an acute problem than it is to treat a chronic one. The drugs the doctor gives aren't meant to resolve the condition. Drugs are just meant to mask the symptoms.
If I can alleviate a persons' back pain in 10 treatments, out of pocket expenses are as low as $700. How much does back surgery cost? For the cost of the X-ray and the MRI, which are pretty standard tests done on all back pain patients, a person could receive 40 to 50 acupuncture treatments.
I often joke to my clients that I am the Rodney Dangerfield of medicine: I get no respect. Is that because I'm not a drug pusher?
*Ryan Vodden, Eureka *