Drug Makers Infiltrating a College Curriculum?
Occasionally drug makers have been devious in their advertising. Several times the government has made them change or pull their ads for making false claims. Or we’ve learned that they’ve funded studies and then neglected to mention, covered up, or glossed over, the negative results when reporting on the research. In December a Canadian news site, CBC News, revealed something similarly outlandish: a drug company that funded a book on managing chronic pain was able to get it in front of medical students in a pain management course.
The culprit? Purdue Pharma, the company that manufactures the painkiller OxyContin.
The book wasn’t actually required reading and it wasn’t distributed by the University of Toronto Medical School. But an unpaid guest lecturer linked to the drug company brought not one book, but several, into the Centre for the Study of Pain, which gave the pain class. The pain curriculum is “a 20-hour course jointly taught to medical, dental, pharmacy and nursing students,” according to the article.
A student and two doctors on the faculty complained after the student alerted the doctors about the book, and the school conducted an informal investigation. (What’s especially sad is that Dr. Rick Glazier, one of the doctors, experienced the tragedy of prescription pill misuse firsthand—his 18-year-old son succumbed to an accidental overdose of OxyContin.) Luckily, their voices were heard: Lorraine Ferris, associate vice-provost in the department of Health Sciences Policy and Strategy, who headed the investigation advised that the curriculum be revamped to include balanced information and suggested it be done poste-haste.
The other faculty member, Dr. Phillip Berger, said about the inquiry: “She’s raised very serious issues of conflict of interest and made what I think is an absolutely correct statement that not only the academic community but the public more generally would find making a copyrighted and owned drug-company textbook available to students objectionable, regardless of how its assessed quality is.” Not only that, but Ferris recommended that the development and accountability for the course be moved out of the Centre that gives the course. Smart idea!
An article on the CTV website, another Canadian news site, noted that the dean of dentistry at the university identified the lecturer as Dr. Roman Jovey, who co-authored the book. Jovey is paid by Purdue to lecture.
This article quoted Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a doctor at a Canadian hospital who also lectures at the University. He had significant concerns about the book. For one, it suggests that it’s fairly safe to prescribe opioids for chronic non-cancer pain, which he believes is untrue. The evidence indicates that it’s appropriate for cancer pain or other severe acute pain, but not non-cancer pain, and it’s a strong drug—twice as strong as morphine, and it is not the moderate one the authors suggest, Dhalla added.
The book also holds that the addiction rate is low for non-cancer pain sufferers—also not true, Dhalla said, and it glosses over the possibility of dying from an overdose. Finally, the doctor raises the issue of medical students being influenced by the misinformation put forth in the book when they become doctors prescribing pain medications. He’s concerned that younger doctors are more liberal with opioids than their predecessors, which points us again to the misinformation in the book.
Jovey said he wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed about what he did. Imagine.