Sunday, June 24, 2012

Children's rights, the pharmaceutical industry, and media silence

I’m pleased to see CRIN devoting some editorials to the issue of pharmaceuticals, and especially psychiatric drugs: “Children’s rights and the other kind of drug use” and “Children’s Rights and the Pharmaceutical Industry.”

Some quotes to give the gist:

Unquestionably, medicine plays a huge role in securing children's rights. Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear that children have the rights to survival, development, and the highest attainable standard of health, all of which must be respected if they are to fully enjoy the wide range of rights under the Convention. Medical assistance is hence vital to the fulfilment of all children's rights, and prescription drugs are often an important component of health care.

But what happens when the very same companies that provide life-saving drugs violate some children's rights to improve health care for others, or simply to increase the bottom line? As the pharmaceutical industry becomes increasingly globalised, it is ever more important to ask this question. Over the past several years, lawsuits and investigations have cropped up around the world that raise concerns about not only testing drugs on children, but administering untested or unnecessary drugs on children.


While pharmaceutical companies have the power to greatly increase children's well-being, it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished by conducting unsafe and unregulated trials, prescribing untested medicine as a matter of course, and lobbying to give some children medication they don't need while seeking to deny others the medication they do need. These practices threaten rather than enhance children's rights to survival, development and health, and CRIN firmly believes that they must be put to an end. As the business of medicine expands around the world, its focus must be fundamentally revisited and revised in light of global ethical concerns and, above all else, the pharmaceutical industry should realign its focus to ensure that its efforts are in the best interests of all children.

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry is never going to realign its focus, and this is why no part of health care should be in the hands of a private, for-profit industry in the first place, but it’s a good thing that children’s rights activists are calling for major reforms in this area.

A somewhat tangential but serious issue the editorials raised for me is media coverage of abuses. They refer, for example, to the case of GSK being fined* this year for research violations, especially related to informed consent, in its clinical trials of the vaccine Synflorix in poor areas of Argentina.

(The Buenos Aires Herald reported that the government found that the 14 babies who died were in the placebo group and that the vaccine is safe; while of course important to note - if correct - this shouldn’t distract from the documented abuses in this research.)

What caught my attention was that the CRIN editorial links to an article from January about how GSK was appealing the decision. I had actually heard about the case in April, when I came across reports that GSK was dropping its appeals and paying the fines, so I knew this information was dated. I searched for more recent coverage, and came up with page after page of reports from January about GSK’s appeal, giving the impression that all was still up in the air. The only reason I was able to find the April article, which is in Spanish, was that I’d saved it at the time. I suspect that there were few or no major exposes or stories in the mainstream English-language media reporting on the April developments, but is it also possible that they do exist but GSK is using some SEO techniques to bury them?

Another case mentioned in one of the editorials is that of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice**:

Last year, Florida ordered a sweeping investigation after finding that many psychiatrists engaged to treat children in the juvenile justice system had accepted large fees from manufacturers of antipsychotic medications. Child advocates have argued that the rising and widespread use of these powerful drugs, some of which are not even approved for use in children, is little more than a “chemical restraint” on children.

But when I try to find recent news about the progress, findings, reports, or consequences of this “sweeping investigation,” I come up empty-handed.

This could be a search failure on my part, but I think these two cases are indicative of the way in which patterns of corporate/government abuse in research and psychiatry not only overwhelmingly go unreported, except for those few egregious examples in which people have made noise, but on the rare occasions these examples do appear they're then allowed by the media to fade into obscurity.

*This phrasing reflects the reality of law with regard to corporations in most places at present. It’s a sad fact that corporations can be found guilty of serious crimes and pay fines without any human having to take criminal responsibility. In fact, the top executives are often rewarded.

**I was bothered that they link at one point to Natural News. It’s just a post citing a study reported in the NYT about children on Medicaid being far more likely to be given antipsychotics than those whose families were privately insured, and I think it’s hard for many people who find it in the first sites listed in a search to recognize it for the kookfest it is, but still…annoying.

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