Prof’s study ties drug firm promotions to bad health

Physician exposure to drug company promotions can cause their patients physical and financial suffering and provides no benefits to their prescribing practices, a York University study shows, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 19.

And yet multi-billion-dollar efforts by pharmaceutical giants to get doctors to prescribe their products add 10 to 20 per cent to Canada’s annual drug costs, the study suggests.

“It’s difficult…after looking at all this evidence, to argue that there’s any reason why doctors should expose themselves to (drug) promotion,” says Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, and a co-author of the study. “There isn’t any reason why they should read the ads in the medical journals or see the sales representatives who come to their offices,” says Lexchin.

The study, which looked at some 58 international papers on drug promotion published over half a century, was released Tuesday by the online journal PloS Medicine.

It found that exposure to pharmaceutical promotions often increased the amount of medications physicians prescribed, made them choose more costly drugs and could lead them to write unnecessary prescriptions.

Lexchin says drug promotions typically tout the most expensive medications available and do not present cheaper or equally effective options. “And if you’re getting a drug when you don’t need it, you have the possibility of suffering side effects from that product,” he says.

Lexchin says pharmaceutical sales representatives often offer doctors free meals and items for their practices, like text books and anatomical aids, during office visits. “But for the most part, this is not a bribe kind of relationship,” Lexchin says. “By seeing sales representatives, by getting to be friendly with them, this sets up a relationship whereby doctors view sales representatives not as sales people but as friends.”

Lexchin estimates pharmaceutical companies spend between $2.4 billion and $4.8 billion a year promoting their products in Canada, most of that aimed directly at doctors. These costs are passed on in higher prices to patients, insurance companies and government drug programs. That represents between 10 and 20 per cent of the country’s annual $25-billion drug bill, Lexchin says.

  • A new study has revealed that under the influence of pharmaceutical promotion, doctors are likely to prescribe more expensively, less appropriately and more often, wrote Asian News International Oct. 20.

“Many doctors claim they aren’t influenced by the information provided by pharmaceutical companies. Our research clearly shows that they are and the influence is negative,” said Joel Lexchin of York University’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health. “Unfortunately, patients are the ones getting a raw deal. If doctors are inundated with advertising from brand name companies, they are more likely to prescribe that brand name, regardless of whether it’s best for the patient,” said Lexchin.

  • News of Lexchin’s study was also reported on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Oct. 20.

Wall Street’s top brass ‘know they blew it’ in 2008, says speaker

The culture of Wall Street – which condoned the reckless risk-taking that hobbled the global economy – has changed, according to the powerful but soft- spoken lawyer of choice for the biggest names in US high finance: Rodgin Cohen, chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 20 in a report on his speech at a private breakfast at the National Club hosted by Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP and the Hennick Centre for Business and Law at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. (Later Tuesday, he gave a lecture on campus.)

Cohen, once described by The New York Times as the “trauma surgeon of Wall Street,” was a central figure in the frantic triage of mergers and bailouts of bleeding financial institutions during the 2008 financial crisis. He has counted almost every significant Wall Street institution as a client.

He told a Toronto audience on Tuesday that many of the top brass of the United States’ biggest financial institutions understand where they went wrong. “They know they blew it,” he says, estimating that many, but not a majority of the top executives on Wall Street, now share this view. “They made a mistake, a lot of mistakes, and their culture has changed, and it is much more concerned about risk, about reputation, about how they deal with their customers.”

The rest? Many of them at least believe they need to address the perception that they are to blame. But some still insist they did nothing wrong, he added.

Is Harper’s ‘principled’ approach rendering Canada a non-factor?

David Shugarman, professor emeritus of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies – while taking pains to note that he was not defending the Harper government’s policies and that Canada’s positions have been wildly inconsistent and even counterproductive when it comes to principles – did suggest that international rebukes of Canadian foreign policy is not in itself reason to abandon those policies, wrote Ottawa’s Embassy newspaper online Oct. 20. It is difficult to craft principles that are not disdained by at least some countries, he said.

In the end, he argued, while Canada’s influence at the UN and with its own allies may be weakening, just how much of that is due to foreign policy rather than the inevitable “declining economic and military strength” in relation to the developing giants like China, India and Brazil is less sure.

Mediator in government reno deal donated to Tories

A consultant hired by the federal government to smooth out disagreements in a controversial Parliament Hill renovation donated money to attend a Conservative fundraiser, wrote The Canadian Press Oct. 19.

Howie Clavier says he did nothing wrong by paying $500 to attend the fundraiser put on by a contractor because he saw it as a good opportunity to network with people involved in the West Block project.

Mediator and arbitrator Elaine Newman, who teaches in the Certificate In Dispute Resolution program in York’s School of Social Work, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said the donation is an issue only if any of the West Block contractors raised concerns about it.

“The question is not, ‘Is this right or wrong?’“ Newman said. “But the more complicated and problematic question: ‘What, if any, is the impact of political contributions when one of the parties…is directly or indirectly the recipient of a benefit from the individual? And what does that do to the perception of neutrality?”

Newman said mediators are free to donate to political parties, just like anyone else.

Holocaust Education Week will focus on survivors’ testimony

To mark the 30th anniversary of Holocaust Education Week, being held Nov. 1 to 9, all programs will highlight the importance of survivors’ testimony, wrote the Canadian Jewish News in its Oct. 21 edition.

A half-day symposium for people in their 20s and 30s will be held at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life on Nov. 7. “Legacy: A Symposium Exploring the Future of Holocaust Remembrance” will consist of discussions and presentations on such topics as the “Holocaust in Pop Culture”, “Would You Buy a BMW?”, and “Teaching the Holocaust”. It will conclude with “Holocaust Remembrance in the year 2050” facilitated by Shelley Hornstein, professor of architectural history and visual culture in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Who will control Caledon?

Over the years the town council has repeatedly voted to stall the runaway northward sprawl of Brampton at the Caledon border, wrote Tayler ‘Hap’ Parnaby in a pre-election column for the Caledon Enterprise Oct. 19. Now pitted against that traditional view of steady, affordable, manageable growth is a group of candidates favouring a much accelerated pace of development, particularly in the area south of Bolton known as the “white zone.” Most are running for office in Bolton wards with the tacit support of the development industry seeking to change the traditional stance of the town.

From notes published by the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario and based on research by political science Professor Robert MacDermid of York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies: “There is evidence of the pervasive influence of the development industry in electing municipal council members. In Brampton, Mississauga, Oshawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill and probably Vaughan, more than 50 per cent of the money for council members’ 2006 campaigns came from the development industry.”

MacDermid concluded that the corporate contributions of developers often exceed those of all others, including citizens. In a Simcoe County study, he posed the essential question, “The sprawling pattern of development in the 905 region should make us think hard about the influence of development dollars in elections on the kind of development that we get.”

Preston is a leader for York’s hockey Lions

Recently, had the opportunity to catch up with North Bay native Cassidy Preston. The third-year York University student recently had the opportunity to play back in his hometown, as a member of the York Lions men’s hockey team, wrote the North Bay online news site Oct. 19.

The former North Bay Skyhawk (2003) forward is in his final year of his undergraduate degree, where he is currently focusing his studies on kinesiology. Following this season, Preston will return to begin his master’s degree in sports psychology and is hopeful of a career in coaching or as a team psychologist. The eldest of the Preston household, Cassidy is also a summertime entrepreneur as the owner of Complete Hockey Training based in North Bay.

On air

  • Marcus Boon, professor of English in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about his new book In Praise of Copying, on CFRB Radio Oct. 19.