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Pfizer’s cover-up on antihypertensive drugs

Recently the Swedish Television (November 11th) as well as the PBS television network (November 13th, as a follow-up on their Frontline program ”Dangerous Prescription”) reported about the ALLHAT project, a comparative study of antihypertensive drugs, led by professor Curt Furberg of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

The ALLHAT study (Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial) found that old-fashioned diuretica such as chlorthalidone, was at least as good for lowering high blood pressure as alpha-blockers such as doxazosin. There is also a link to a possible increased risk of congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke with doxazosin – probably not as much a side-effect as a matter of lack of effect on these conditions.

The ALLHAT study was presented in an article in JAMA almost a year ago: The ALLHAT Officers and Coordinators for the ALLHAT Collaborative Research Group, ”Major Outcomes in High-Risk Hypertensive Patients Randomized to Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitor or Calcium Channel Blocker vs Diuretic”, JAMA, December 18, 2002—Vol 288, No. 23 2981-2997. It is available as a PDF file at the ALLHAT site or here. The authors conclude:

Thiazide-type diuretics are superior in preventing 1 or more major forms of CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and are less expensive. They should be preferred for first-step antihypertensive therapy.

The ALLHAT study was terminated prematurely since the research team did not want to jeopardize the participating patients’ health by giving them a drug that the team suspected did not provide the best remedy. The drug company Pfizer, who manufactures a doxazosin drug called Cardura (in Sweden the trade mark is Alfadil), started a counter campaign. But the company had also to face a lawsuit from a patient who had taken Cardura. In this trial a lot of internal Pfizer documents were disclosed to the public. Here we can read, among other things, the survey that a PR firm executed in order to check whether doctors were aware of the critique against Cardura or not. Thus they would be able to customize their ”damage control” letters to physicians of different medical specialties. See this PDF at the FDA website, pages 104-106.

Björn Dahlöf, a Swedish scientist and consultant to the drug industry, claimed in the Swedish TV program ”Uppdrag granskning” that the JAMA article had never been peer-reviewed, something he later admitted was not true. There has obviously been attempts not only to discredit Furberg, but also to stop doctors from listening to his lectures. At a conference in Anaheim, California, in the spring 2000, the drug company organized a sight seeing tour for some of the doctors at precisely the time when Furberg was about to deliver his lecture. In the TV program Furberg says that this was hardly a coincidence. And it was not. The confidential Pfizer documents from the trial, now at display at the FDA web site, prove that this in fact was a deliberate measure. Karole M. Oleksey, of the Cardura marketing team, with special responsibility for Spain and Italy, writes in an e-mail on March 16, 2000 (page 109 in the PDF):

I saw Loris and Alessandro here at the ACC this morning at the ALLHAT presentation. I am sure they will fill you in on the presentation of the results. The good news is that they were quite brilliant in sending their key physicians to sightsee rather than hear Curt Furberg slam Pfizer once again!

This is not surprising since drug companies have acted in similar ways before at conferences, for instance by marking journalists man-to-man to keep them from talking to certain scientists with unwanted views. See for instance my article ”Consensus and canaries” footnote no 69.

A mini-interview (in English) with Curt Furberg about his and the study group’s findings is available at the ESI Special Topics Web site.

The PBS writes about Furberg as a follow-up on the program ”Dangerous Prescription”:

”If you eliminated all the ACE inhibitors and calcium antagonists [calcium channel blockers] for the first-line treatment of hypertension,” says Furberg, and if patients were put on diuretics, ”we would avert maybe 60,000 events per year – 60,000 heart failures or strokes. These are devastating complications. So, if you want to know what has happened over the past five years, we’ll you can multiply by five. So we’re talking about a large number of people who unnecessarily have suffered these events because we didn’t have the knowledge we have today.” (See Andrew Liebman’s ”Producer’s notebook”)

For Swedish readers there is an article on Furberg at the Svenska Dagbladet web site, published November 16th, titled ”Läkemedelsindustrins fiende nummer ett” (”The drug industry’s enemy number one”). On the web is also a written article from the Swedish television accompanying their program ”Uppdrag granskning” (November 11th), titled ”Dolda fakta om blodtrycksmedicin” (”Hidden facts about antihypertensive drugs”).

Pingad på Intressant.


Are dentists free to write about mercury fillings?

An op-ed article about dental amalgam written by a dentist, Mark Breiner, in the Connecticut Post in July this year has led to a lawsuit concerning free speech matters. Read more »

Muscle pain syndromes: Hypersensitivity and treatment

Issue no 6 (vol. 7) of Current Pain and Headache Reports, to be published in December 2003, has several interesting articles on muscle pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome.

K.G. Henriksson (at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Linkoping University, Sweden) has written a review, ”Hypersensitivity in muscle pain syndromes”, presenting research regarding the pathogenesis of hypersensitivity in these syndromes. Read more »

Totalförbud av kvicksilver utreds

Regeringen beslutade idag att ge Kemikalieinspektionen i uppdrag att utreda hur ett totalförbud mot hantering av kvicksilver i Sverige kan utformas.

Enligt miljökvalitetsmålet Giftfri miljö ska varor så långt det är möjligt vara fria från kvicksilver före utgången av 2003. Ett totalförbud i lagstiftningen med tidsbegränsade undantag skulle bättre motsvara miljökvalitetsmålet än dagens reglering.
Redan idag finns en omfattande reglering av användning av kvicksilver, men fortfarande återstår en del användningar. Det finns också en risk för att nya användningsområden tillkommer.
Användningen av kvicksilver i amalgam är ett användningsområde som fortfarande tillåts, men där förbud av hälso- och miljöskäl har diskuterats i många år. Kemikalieinspektionen kommer här att samverka med Socialstyrelsen.
Uppdraget ska redovisas senast den 30 juni 2004.
(Pressmeddelande 2003-11-06 från Johan Hasslow, Pressekreterare, Miljödepartementet.)

Se även: Miljömålsportalen
Dagens Nyheter: ”Kvicksilver kan bli totalförbjudet

Pingad på Intressant.

EU Commissioner tests for toxins in her blood

Environment Commissioner Wallström announced on 6 November that 28 chemical substances had been found in her body, illustrating the urgency of the EU’s radical review of its chemicals policy. Her blood contained a number of PBDEs (penta-BDE and octa-BDE), PCBs, and organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT.

Read more at:

Presence of persistent chemicals in the human body results of Commissioner Wallstrom’s blood test

Commissioner Wallström proves urgency of chemicals policy overhaul

Commissioner takes toxicity test

White Paper on the Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy

In Swedish: ”Margot Wallström har gift i blodet” (Dagens Nyheter 6/11)

Pingad på Intressant.

Enteroviruses in muscle tissue in CFS patients

A study made at Imperial College in London found an association between impaired muscle energy metabolism and the presence of enteroviruses in muscle biopsies from CFS patients. The article, Lane RJ, Soteriou BA, Zhang H, Archard LC, ”Enterovirus related metabolic myopathy: a postviral fatigue syndrome” (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2003 Oct;74(10):1382-6. ) is presently in the process of publication. Read more »