The FDA should protect well-being first and foremost

“Protecting and promoting your health.” The slogan for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) boasts the safety and control of the medicines on the market. But, a recent scandal between drug companies and the FDA has left me feeling not quite so protected.

An attorney from Columbus, Ohio recently obtained emails between FDA members and drug company employees through an open records request. The emails show companies paid as much as $25,000 to attend panel meetings hosted by the FDA, according to a Washington Post article published Oct. 7.

The panel dubbed themselves the Initiative on Methods, Measurement and Pain Assessment in Clinical Trials (IMMPACT) group. The members of the panel, both FDA officials and drug company employees, met in private and co-wrote rules and regulations for clinical testing of new painkillers on the market.

According to the IMMPACT website, their mission is to “develop consensus reviews and recommendations for improving the design, execution and interpretation of clinical trials of treatments for pain.” Most of that sounds good to me. Who wouldn’t want painkillers to be improved?

The one part I question is the “interpretation of clinical trials.” How varied has that interpretation become under the influence of the pharmaceutical companies? The IMMPACT website says the first meeting was held in 2002. That’s over ten years of their say in the “interpretation.”

Craig Mayton, the attorney who requested the emails, was quoted in the Washington Post article and said, “Instead of protecting the public health, the FDA has been allowing the drug companies to pay for a seat at the small table where all the rules were written.”

My question is why should drug companies have a say in the painkiller trials at all? They are, at their core, businesses. Every business has the goal to make the most money they can. The painkiller market in the United States is worth $9 billion. That’s a huge market to try to break in to. From a business standpoint, who wouldn’t take advantage of being allowed into decision-making meetings?

These meetings, however, directly affect individual well-being. The FDA is supposed to be regulators, not the regulated. When they accepted a payout of $25,000 for drug company input, they promised influence for money. That is the natural relationship between two parties when money changes hands. It only makes sense the FDA would feel some sort of obligation to IMMPACT and their wants. The dynamic in this type of relationship is what makes lobbying of all kinds effective.

Lobbying should not be accepted in the medical field. Drugs and treatments should not be pushed through the system to consumers. They need to be extensively trialed before they reach the general public. This process has been sped up because of the influence of pharmaceutical money.

The fact they are pushing through highly addictive painkillers only intensifies the problem. In 2010, 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers non-medically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are only the people using the pills without a prescription strictly for “the feeling they cause.” In 2008, over 14,000 people overdosed on painkillers. That’s more than cocaine and heroin combined. What if the addictive nature could have been lessened with more extensive research and trials?

These emails only shed light on one group of medicine this happens with. Freshman year I was admitted to the hospital for a few weeks with half of my body numb, and nobody could
figure out why. A year or so later, I found out it was a reaction to a vaccine I had in middle school.

It is no secret our government is influenced dramatically by money. But when the well-being and safety of its citizens is put on the line, the domination of dollar signs has gone way too far.