WebMD may seem like an “objective” news source to some; but close inspection will show it rife with conflicts of interest. Like most mainstream media “news” on television or in magazines, internet stories or blogs, it is increasingly difficult to separate wheat from chaff, truth from fiction, promotion from useful information. When one looks closer at WebMD, for example, one sees a huge web of well-connected corporations with vested interests in drug profits.
WebMD partners with Eli Lilly
One U.S. Senator has investigated these connections in an Eli Lilly WebMD link. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has noted that drug giant Eli Lilly is a WebMD partner.
The evidence is clear, says writer Martha Rosenberg. A 2002 WebMD article regarding pain and depression announces, “Lilly is a WebMD Partner.” A WebMD “advertising award” (what, pray, would constitute an advertising award?) in 2004 went to the FCB “client” Eli Lilly & Co./WebMD. Ms. Rosenberg notes the singular “client,” not “clients.” The Washington Post also reported in 2000 that Lilly and WebMD are partners.
Senator investigates Eli Lilly, WebMD link
Mr. Grassley was drawn to the WebMD-Lilly arrangement after a WebMD TV ad began encouraging people to undergo a Lilly depression screening. This scheme is among ongoing advertising efforts to encourage people to self diagnose and take the proffered pills.
Ms. Rosenberg and others see Big Pharma’s screening as a ruse to recruit more customers, including those from the deep ranks of teens, adolescents and new mothers.
SSRIstories.com now contains some 3,500 news articles about antidepressant linked violence. The gory list includes 700 murders, 200 murder-suicides, 51 school shootings, 54 postpartum depression cases since 1989. If, as is known with the Maude database, only ten percent of these types of adverse events of pharmaceutical drugs gets reported, that 3,500 number could easily be closer to 35,000.
Drug Profits R Us
Besides WebMD, WebMD Health Corp. includes the web sites Medscape, MedicineNet, eMedicine, eMedicine Health, RxList, theHeart.org, and drugs.com. The Washington Post reports that WebMD’s original partners and investors included “Microsoft, DuPont, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (and his Fox TV networks), Silicon Graphics and Netscape founder Jim Clark, drug maker Eli Lilly, and EDS, the computer services company founded by H. Ross Perot.”
Ms. Rosenberg says Lilly is not the only drug company enjoying “unmarked product placement on WebMD.”
Ms. Rosenberg points to one video of a woman confessing her general fear while a voice over says she needs treatment for “general anxiety disorder.” The video then shows bottles of Forest Pharmaceuticals’ antidepressant Lexapro moving down the assembly line. No disclaimer appeared on the video, nor did anything identify it as being sponsored by any entity.
Another unsponsored WebMD video urged people on antidepressants to remain on their therapy “despite side effects.” Another suggested women concerned about cancer, heart attack, stroke risks of postmenopausal hormone therapy should continue their drugs at lowered doses.
Andrea Yates not used in Effexor Ad
A recent WebMD search Ms. Rosenberg did for a Wyeth (now Pfizer) antidepressant Effexor brought up a JAMA study that found Effexor superior to other antidepressants. One of the authors was funded by Wyeth. Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in 2001, was taking Effexor; but she wasn’t mentioned in the promo.
Sadly, murder or murder-suicide by SSRI cases are difficult to prove up, and Big Pharma knows it.
Cymbalta: Death by Trial
Some will remember 19-year-old clinical volunteer Traci Johnson, who was completely healthy until she got into a Cymbalta trial in 2004, then killed herself during trials on the Lilly campus. Ms. Johnson had no depression history, according to Rev. Joel Barnaby, a spokesman for the Johnson family. He called Lilly’s decision to proceed with Cymbalta’s launch as scheduled “offensive.”
Five others suicides occurred during Cymbalta clinical trials, according to FDA, which also said that twice the rate of suicide attempts were seen in women prescribed the drug for stress urinary incontinence. The drug went to market anyway, and remains there, raking in profits.
Others may recall Cymbalta as the drug being used by Carol Anne Gotbaum when she mysteriously died in 2007 while in police custody at Phoenix’ Sky Harbor airport in 2007. Since so many people seem to die violently in police custody these days, perhaps it is possible to write that one as a “one-off.”
SSRI problems aren’t pretty, but with the help of “advertising award” promotions and a compliant mainstream media which says very little about the downside of these and other drugs, the pretty side will likely continue on our TV screens, the smiling faces of those dramatically “helped” by the drugs while the laundry list of “side effects” is voiced over in reassuring, deep toned whispers at the end. You know, the sort of thing that brings advertising awards. Play up the selling points, play down the pains (even the deaths) and put a smiley face on it all. Have a nice day.