Medication errors happen all too often, usually due to misfilling mistakes made by a pharmacist, mistakes made at the time of administration by a nurse or inadequate followup by a physician. As horrifying as negligent medication errors are, consider something worse: an intentional medication error. That’s exactly what the US Department of Justice found when investigating a large pharmaceutical company’s promotion of three popular medications: Avandia, Paxil and Wellbutrin.
The DOJ found various efforts by GlaxoSmithKline to push these medications in illegal or fraudulent ways, often with aid and abetment from doctors.
We have long known that pharmaceutical companies have had too much influence on the ways that physicians practice medicine. But the DOJ uncovered a nefarious plot by GlaxoSmithKline to go beyond merely influencing decisionmaking through a lawful marketing campaign. According to the DOJ, the pharmaceutical giant intentionally misbranded drugs, failed to report negative safety data, promoted drugs for use by minors without approval, distributed phony medical literature about drugs, co-opted physicians into prescribing the drugs by lavishing gifts on them and created sham physician advisory boards to coax doctors into prescribing the drugs.
It goes without saying that pharmaceutical companies cannot be trusted to put patients’ safety before profits. However, physicians’ complicity at all levels of this health scam is reprehensible. Patients not only have a legal right to trust their physician, trust is inherently necessary in the relationship since physicians alone are qualified to give valid medical advice. Once that trust is broken, the medical system itself is broken. Medication errors by a pharmacy and medical negligence are one thing, but selling out a patient over the price of a trip to a resort is another.