Doctor’s Tip: Big Pharma’s inappropriate influence on the practice of medicine

Dr. Greg Feinsinger

Over the past several decades the pharmaceutical industry has developed drugs that prolong life and improve quality of life. However, there’s a dark side.

The April issue of the American Family Physician journal has an article about new national guidelines for drug treatment of asthma. You would expect that these guidelines would be unbiased and free from Big Pharma influence, but that’s not the case. In the same issue there is an editorial that speaks to this titled “Recent Changes in International Asthma Guidelines May Be Influenced by Pharmaceutical Industry Conflicts of Interest.”

There were two boards that came up with the recommendations in the new guidelines, and according to the editorial almost all the studies that led to the new recommendations were done by scientists working for pharmaceutical companies that would benefit financially from them. Furthermore, the large majority of both boards was made up of industry scientists — hardly unbiased. The medication recommended in the new guidelines is Symbicort (generic name budesonide/formoterol), which is made by Astra/Zeneca, which “reported more than $2.5 billion in sales worldwide in 2021.”

The editorial ends with this comment: “The choice of…medication in patients with asthma affects health outcomes and health care costs. Our colleagues and patients should be able to make this decision with guidelines…that are not unduly influenced by the [pharmaceutical] industry.”

Medical school is all about pills and procedures. Medical students take a class in pharmacology early in their four years of medical school. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, they don’t learn about the power of healthy food and regular exercise to prevent, treat and reverse disease (including asthma, which is an inflammatory disease that often responds favorably to an anti-inflammatory diet). This is a shame, because a healthy lifestyle has no adverse side effects, costs nothing beyond what people already pay for food, and is more powerful than pills — an example being that statin drugs are 30% effective in preventing heart attacks, whereas a plant-based, whole food diet is 98% effective.

Doctors don’t learn about the power of food in postgraduate conferences either, because most are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. These companies hire “drug reps” who call on doctors’ offices where they catch doctors between patients and tell them about the drugs they are selling — not a good way for physicians to learn about new drugs. The reps have data from local pharmacies that tells them which physicians are prescribing their drugs, so they can target the ones who aren’t. Often the reps buy lunch for the doctors and their staff — usually unhealthy lunches, even if the reps are selling drugs for diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol.

In his recently-released book “The People’s Hospital” Ricardo Nuila, M.D., talks about “Corporate Medicine,” or what he calls “Medicine Inc.” Robert Pearl, M.D. talks about the four “Legacy Players” in his book called “Mistreated, Why We Think We’re Getting Good Health Care — And Why We’re Usually Wrong.” These four powerful players are: major insurers, hospitals, physician specialty societies (e.g. American societies of cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, and other high-cost specialties), and drug and device companies. He points to a study showing that Big Pharma “may be the most profitable industry that exists.”

We are the only developed country in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to market drugs directly to our citizens.

Bottom line: Big Pharma has more influence than it should on physicians and the way they practice.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market, and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment, or email

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