Slowly, slowly, slowly, American and Canadian universities begin to react to the scandal of drug companies corrupting their institutions.
Stanford’s industry-compromised professors are today’s big news; but smaller, just as important stories – like this one from the University of Toronto – give UD just the tiniest bit of hope that in the struggle between pharma and ethical people, ethical people can win the occasional tussle.
A Toronto med student in a pain management course featuring a pharma-paid guest lecturer – who gave free copies of a pharma-written book to the students – reported this circumstance to two UT med school professors. The son of one of these professors died not long ago of an accidental OxyContin overdose, and the professor wasn’t happy to see that OxyContin’s manufacturer was essentially the author of the book.
In the book, notes another UT professor:
“[O]xycodone … is listed as a moderate-potency opioid, when I think everybody agrees it’s a very strong opioid, up to twice as strong as morphine.”
While it’s appropriate to prescribe oxycodone for severe acute pain or cancer pain …the book suggests that physicians can prescribe the drug for chronic non-cancer pain with relative safety for the patient.
… “When you prescribe to people with chronic non-cancer pain, it’s very difficult to do that safely,” he said, noting that the book pays little attention to issues of addiction and deaths from overdose.
“The book in several places makes reference to a claim that the rates of addiction if opioids are used for chronic non-cancer pain are very low. And they’re not nearly as low as is claimed in the book.”
In fact, a study by [this professor] and colleagues published last year showed prescription rates for opioids — including OxyContin, a long-acting form of oxycodone — soared in Ontario over the last two decades, as did the number of deaths linked to the narcotic.
What’s of greatest concern, of course, is how such information imparted to medical students as part of their curriculum will affect prescribing practices once they become doctors…
UT has announced that the course will be revamped, but who knows? An obvious huckster and his wares happened to get noticed by one student ; that student was enterprising enough to contact the right professors about it, etc. See how unusual it is for anyone to do anything about this? How risky? (Why isn’t the medical student named?) How much in denial the university remains? (The guy in charge of the pain program says there wasn’t any real conflict of interest.)
One of the UT professors who complained to the administration puts it very bluntly.
“It is in the interests of the drug company to have physicians prescribing as many opioid medications to as many patients as possible.”