Biomedical Breakthroughs That Aren’t: Why It’s Okay To Doubt New Meds

Discussing and determining the right medicine for you can be a daunting task for both you and your doctor. The sheer number of prescription drugs available to treat any given medical issue leads many of us to trust the word of our doctors, often without finding out for ourselves if the medicine prescribed is right for our unique medical needs. Thanks to stellar advances in bioresearch during the last century, doctors are now empowered to cure diseases that have leveled civilizations in the past.

Surely, the clear success of bioresearch in the last decade alone is enough to prove its importance to any society. As a result, now more than ever, for-profit bioresearch companies are experiencing tremendous success in the marketplace. A key component of such a company’s success is in convincing you and your doctors that their particular biomedical discoveries are the best currently available on the market.

As with any for-profit business or organization, the risk of fraud in the biomedical research industry is quite real. These days, safeguarding yourself against such fraud requires you to not only seek sound advice from your doctor, but also to conduct your own research into the medicine you feel might be right for your health. The good news is, with the preponderance of easily consumable information available to us from reputable web sources, combating bioresearch fraud is a task most of us can do easily from the comfort of our own home.

A Brief History of Biomedical Fraud in the United States

In 1906, the practice of selling ineffective and dangerous pharmaceuticals to an uninformed American public became a problem of almost epidemic proportions. In response to what he saw to be a tremendous danger to domestic stability, Theodore Roosevelt instituted the Food and Drug Act (or Wiley Act), which set certain high standards for the production and sale of food and drugs in the United States. The law did much to stop strong, habit-forming drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, from being sold over-the-counter under misleading labels. In fact, only three years prior to the act’s ratification, Coca-Cola had begun a slow transition away from using cocaine as a key ingredient in their famed beverage. Some theorize that Coca-Cola’s rampant popularity (thanks to the irresponsible inclusion of cocaine) was one of the key factors that spurred the Roosevelt Administration to push for these new, progressive food and drug regulations.

Over the last century, the Food and Drug Administration has been more or less successful at stemming the tide of potentially ineffective and dangerous drugs from reaching the marketplace. However, today one sees a troubling rise in mistakes being made in bioresearch, as well as several cases of blatant fraud. Moreover, with the rise of the “new frontier” that is the World Wide Web, it is becoming more and more difficult for regulatory agencies to keep track of drugs available for prescription by doctors, as well as “over-the-counter” medications made available cheaply online. In the end, while we may be safer today than the days of Upton Sinclair and cocaine-infused Cokes, it is ultimately our responsibility to make sure we stay safe when it comes to understanding the state of drugs and biomedical research today.

“Snake Oil” in 21st Century America

These days, advertisers, doctors and drug manufacturers often cite biomedical research to protect themselves in the event that such drugs react negatively with their patients, but the quality and thoroughness of such research is often riddled with errors – if not outright fraud. While many companies maintain a healthy balance between their need to remain profitable and their obligation to public safety, far too many companies let their profits overpower their conscience. This is exactly the problem Theodore Roosevelt saw brewing in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the same problem is beginning to rear its ugly head at the turn of this century as well.

Scientific safety studies on discoveries in biomedical research are sometimes the only efforts preventing massively profitable drugs from hitting the marketplace. Moreover, the current state of the United States’ patent system makes it particularly difficult for companies to compete with each other when it comes to providing safe, effective medication to consumers. As a result, many biomedical research firms have resorted to fraud or shoddy research in order to bring a questionable product to market.

A recent study made by researchers at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concluded that a whopping 67% of retractions from scientific journals occurred as a result of research misconduct. Of that percentage, 43% resulted from fraud or suspected fraud. While this is nothing to be terribly alarmed about, these are numbers that cannot be ignored, particularly when you consider the presence of medications on the market that stem from fraudulent biomedical research. In the end, if you feel that a certain medication isn’t right for you, understand what your rights are as a patient, and don’t be afraid to say no to your doctor. The more information you have, the better you are at making such choices.

Becoming a Savvy Patient

While the age-old conflict between economic freedom and government regulation will inevitably wage on, the one thing all consumers can count on is their own intelligence and savvy when it comes to finding out more about the medications their doctors prescribe. It is only right to trust our doctors to have our backs, particularly when it comes to carefully reading over several hundred pages of biomedical research. However, even the most meticulous medical doctor may not catch all the specifics of the research, let alone any mistakes or fraud. The very clear and present reality of biomedical research fraud makes it all the more difficult to ensure that you and your loved ones are taking the safest medications currently on the market – with or without your doctor’s sound advice. Therefore, the onus of adequately researching the safety of pharmaceutical drugs lies squarely on us. Making a real effort to find out everything behind the products we choose to put in our own bodies is key to combatting the fraud that devalues our health in the pursuit of a quick buck.