Volume 4, Issue 16
April 21, 2011

Is the pink ribbon just a front
for drug companies?

You’ve probably seen all the amazing advertisements with pink ribbons these days. Pink is a hot color these days, as it represents the fight against breast cancer. And who doesn’t want to fight breast cancer? While I fight breast cancer in my patients almost daily, I’ve always been uneasy about these programs. And now I know why.

The pink ribbon represents just one advocacy association. There are a bunch of other non-profits that fight for these diseases. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, with its pink ribbon, is one of the best known. But there’s also the American Heart Association, National Kidney Foundation, and hundreds of others.

These organizations do an amazing job of advertising their cause. They make it sound like they’re independent, grass-roots organizations whose only interest is to help people. But is there more to it than that? Are some of these associations and foundations just fronts for the drug industry? A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association makes you wonder.

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According to the article, many of these advocacy organizations do not disclose funding that comes from pharmaceutical companies. Yet, they encourage their members to take the drugs from these companies. And they funnel the donations back to the drug companies to help pay for the research.

The article goes on to describe one company in particular, Eli Lilly. This company gave $3.2 million to 161 health advocacy organizations in only the first half of 2007. It turns out that only 25% of these organizations disclosed this money from Lilly. And 90% of them did not even disclose to their members that Lilly was any kind of sponsor at all. That’s bad enough. But it gets worse.

Of Lilly’s $10.1 billion net sales in the United States, 45% came from drugs for neurological disease, 31% from drugs in endocrinological diseases, and 11% from cancer drugs. Is it completely accidental that of all the money they donated to advocacy groups, 85% went to groups representing medical conditions in these three areas?

Look at it realistically. Let’s say I form the Society for the Consumers of Alternative Medicine (SCAM). I ask for people all over the country just like you to donate money to my group so that we can promote research in alternative medicine. I also tell you that we want to help inform those suffering from drug side effects about nutritional treatments that might be helpful to them. And let’s say that one of the major funders of my new organization just happens to be one of the biggest nutritional suppliers in the country – let’s call them Really Interesting Products Or Functional Foods, Inc. (RIPOFF, Inc.).

Of course, I forget to mention to you the special warm and fuzzy financial arrangement that RIPOFF and SCAM have because my memory after all is just not that great.

How would you respond when SCAM then starts to funnel your donations to RIPOFF, Inc. to help them to develop products to sell to you that SCAM will recommend? Does this process sound a little tainted to you?

Well, welcome to the world of medical advocacy groups. Now I am not saying that all of these groups are similar to SCAM and RIPOFF, Inc., but let me suggest this.

Before anyone sends any money to any advocacy group, I believe that they should find out three things. One, where does that group get its money from? Is any money at all coming from either pharmaceutical companies or other companies supported by drug companies?

Two, does that group recommend medications manufactured by any drug companies that it accepts money from?

And three, does the group funnel any research funds to the pharmaceutical companies that support them? If the answers you get are a little fishy, donate your money elsewhere.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

Rothman SM, et al.  Am J Public Health. Doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2010.30027 [published online ahead of print January 13, 2011.

Voelker R. Study: few advocacy groups disclose grants from drug companies. JAMA, Feb 16, 2011-Vol 305, No 7.  P. 662.

Copyright 2011 Soundview Publishing, LLC

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