Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Heimlich Maneuver

Most of you have probably heard of the Heimlich maneuver. Even if you weren’t quite certain how to perform this procedure, we know that when someone is choking, quick implementation can often save someone’s life. It’s also one of the few opportunities we have in life to be acknowledged as a true hero

Diana and I traveled to LA last week to attend, PCRM’s 25th Anniversary Gala. As part of the program, the Henry J. Heimlich Award for Innovative Medicine was presented. We had met Dr. Heimlich on several previous occasions, and had found him to be a very generous and engaging individual and especially sharp at 90 years of age.

In 1974, he published research which was to be the basis for the introduction of the Heimlich maneuver. It has been estimated that more than 50,000 lives have been saved from choking and drowning in the United States and many thousands more worldwide. Throughout his professional life, Dr. Heimlich developed many other important procedures and devices to save lives and reduce suffering.

With this background, and our knowledge of Dr Heimlichs’ many accomplishments, we were shocked to discover an amazingly negative story about him in the La Weekly just a few days before the PCRM Gala. It was a classic ‘’hit piece’’, full of innuendo with an estranged son who claimed his father to be a fraud and charlatan.

A careful reading of this story, led us to believe that the author was using Dr. Heimlich as a conduit to attack PCRM. The implication was that the entire world knew Heimlich was a fraud, and that his only supporters were PCRM, the animal rights group.

This outrageous story had the opposite effect on attendance at the event. There were more than 500 attendees, the majority of whom had never seen the slanderous story. Those few individuals who had read the story, deemed it so ‘’off the wall’’ that they totally disregarded it.

This experience for us was both enlightening and frightening. The planting of pseudo investigative reporting by special interest groups to sway public opinion is an alarm for us to be very discerning regarding our news sources.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Drug War

This story begins last fall, when Diana and I were returning from the North American Vegetarian Conference in Toronto Canada. We arrived at the airport for our flight to San Francisco quite early, which gave us ample time to do some serious people watching. When we reached our departure gate, I noticed a lively group of about 30 people who were having a great time while waiting for the same flight that we were on. The initial group mushroomed to about 60, by the time our flight began to board. They were rather a boisterous group, ranging in age from the mid twenties to the mid fifties.

I had made a number of assumptions about these well scrubbed Canadians. My first thought was that they were a group of academics on their way to some research conference. As it turned out, the group comprised the entire Canadian sales force for the Big Pharma, Astra Zeneca. They were going to San Francisco to attend the company’s annual sales meeting, in which all their new drugs were to be presented.

Being aware that one of their top selling drugs was the statin, Crestor, I was curious how the sales people might respond to my questions regarding the role of diet in reducing cholesterol. I immediately got into a conversation with my drug rep seat mate regarding her role in the company. She informed me that she called on Physicians to keep them ‘’informed’’ about Crestor. When I asked her about the role of diet and exercise in cholesterol management, she said that her company discussed these factors on their website. I had the sense that she didn’t want pursue the issue much further, and not wanting to appear too obnoxious, I shut up for the remainder of the flight.

Flash forward to this week’s front page story in the NY Times,’’ Plan to Widen Use of Statins Has Skeptics Cholesterol - Pills Aimed at Healthy People.’’ The FDA has approved new criteria for the use of Crestor last month for essentially asyptomatic people, and AstraZeneca is already planning to debut their new marketing and advertising campaign based on this dubious criteria. Crestor had sales of $4.5 billion last year, and at a retail price of $3.50 a tablet, the estimated 6.5 million potential additional consumers in this country, will certainly help their bottom line.

Crestor is not the only example of Big Pharma’s efforts to redefine guide lines in order to increase sales. Our pill popping culture provides the perfect substrate for them to expand their influence in the health care world. The majority of these ‘’new use’’ drugs are aimed at lifestyle conditions. Why eat well, exercise and stress manage, when you can take a pill, is their corporate mantra. It’s a perfect marriage, since many of us would rather take a pill than be proactive.

The only hope for us to get out of this quagmire, which is bankrupting us in so many ways, is to fight back with the facts. The present course is unsustainable, and we need to communicate this message to the general public in a much more effective way than we have. At this time, the corporate message is so far ahead of the public health message, that Las Vegas has taken this game off the board.