Medical science has learned a great deal about the causes of pain and ways to relieve it, pain experts say, but for a host of reasons, the treatment of pain and suffering has improved hardly at all in recent years.
A scientific panel has issued a blistering report against the Food and Drug Administration, saying the agency ignored important evidence in reassuring consumers about the safety of the controversial chemical bisphenol-A.
The panel, in a report issued this week, did not draw any conclusions about the safety of the chemical, known as BPA. But it criticized the F.D.A. for ignoring crucial studies and using what it said were flawed methods in reaching its conclusions.
Stockmarket pressure to find "blockbuster" drugs has forced drug companies to push products to market ever more aggressively. In the case of Merck's painkiller Vioxx, this had disastrous and lethal results.
There are two remarkable things about the painkiller Vioxx. One was its disastrous impact on those who took it. Before it was pulled from the market in September 2004, Vioxx probably did more harm than any other modern prescription medicine. Critics of the drug have estimated that up to 140,000 Americans suffered heart attacks or strokes and about a third died as a result of taking it—and that is not counting those who died in the other countries where the drug was sold. It was as if a full jumbo jet dropped from the sky every week for five years, yet no one noticed.
Adverse reactions to medication is the fifth most common cause of death in hospitals according to the European Commission, but EU agencies and national governments have until now kept secret pharmaceutical companies' reports on side-effects.
The PSURs for example detail how doctors in various countries suspect that teenagers grow suicidal when taking a certain medication against pimples, or that a diet product could lead to a stroke and what industry has to say about the medical fears.
The MammoSite system is among the thousands of devices the F.D.A. lets onto the market each year after only cursory review and with no clear evidence that they help patients. Doctors are free to use those products as they see fit, without telling patients that the devices are not proved. And because the doctors are frequently paid more by Medicare as a way to compensate them for the extra time and expense of adopting new procedures, these unproven products can become widely adopted.
Independent health researcher Grace Filby, who won a Churchill Fellowship for her research into phage therapy, is calling on the government for more research into the possible side-effects of the HPV vaccine that is currently being given to teenage girls.
Filby believes that not enough is known about the effects of the vaccine on children with pre-existing medical conditions and weakened immune systems. She says, "We simply do not know whether the vaccine interacts with other medication or medical conditions, and the manufacturers have not studied it yet. This could be a very valid reason why some families and schools might hesitate or opt out."
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