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NZ research shows drug companies misleading the public

MEDIA RELEASE              December 18, 2013

The December edition of the scientific journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica has published a review of studies examining the role of drug companies in the funding of mental health websites, including the first meta-analysis of studies (all conducted at the University of Auckland) comparing sites funded and not funded by drug companies.

The review identified studies of websites for six problems: Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anorexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Schizophrenia and Erectile Dysfunction. 152 (42%) of the 365 websites were drug company funded (including 22 actually owned by companies); with the most heavily industry-funded websites being for schizophrenia (58%).

The meta-analysis found that company funded sites are significantly biased toward biogenetic causal explanations (eg ‘chemical imbalance’ and ‘genetics’) (p < 0.01) and toward medication (p < 0.0001) compared to sites that are financially independent of the industry. For example, in 48% of the industry sponsored Erectile Dysfunction websites medication was theonly treatment mentioned, compared to 10% of websites not funded by drug companies.

Furthermore, industry funded websites for Schizophrenia were significantly more likely to perpetuate the stigmatising myths that patients become violent if they come off medication and that people with this diagnosis have little chance of recovery – by using terms such as devastating, disabling, severe, debilitating, chronic, degenerative, and long-term.

The authors, Professor John Read (ex University of Auckland, now University of Liverpool) and Amanda Cain (University of Auckland, New Zealand), concluded that “Drug company–funded websites cannot be considered an objective source of mental health information, for the public or practitioners” and that “The pervasive international influence of the pharmaceutical industry in all aspects of mental health policy, practice and research now clearly extends to the internet”.

The paper adds: “Practitioners are encouraged to inform patients about the bias inherent in industry-sponsored websites and to recommend, instead, more balanced websites that present a range of evidence-based information about causes and treatments”.

“The pharmaceutical industry is using its enormous financial power to promote its products, and a
somewhat simplistic ideology about causation that provides the rationale for those products, by funding the websites of other organizations, including cash-strapped NGOs. The internet is extraordinarily hard to regulate, but very easy to influence if you have the motive and money to do so.”


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