Way back in 2004, a group of New Zealanders learned what it meant to be hit over the head by Big Pharma. Pfizer to be precise. While IAS was Pfizer's actual target, in reality, I was the bull's eye, because the information was written by me, and therefore, I had most of the references in order to defend the complaint. I had written, and made comments based on the very well documented FACTS that the use of paracetamol to reduce fever during infection, downgrades the very part of the inate immune system that triggers the fever, which then sends out cytokine signals, which then release a series of armies which attack invading pathogens. Turning this part of the immune system off, can make diseases much more serious, AS WELL AS increase the likelihood of death.
At that time in New Zealand, the paracetamol brand name I targetted was owned by Pfizer. I chose it, because it appeared in just about every print and TV advertisement targetted at parents. I quoted a brandname specifically because parent know what "PAMOL" is, whereas had I used the generic term, acetaminophen, most parents would have grunted, "Huh?! What is that?". It was important that the known information hit the correct part in a parent's brain. Using the brand name was Pfizer's initial lever at the IAS, and me. Had I just said, "paracetamol" or "acetaminophen", then I suspect their response would have been somewhat different. To drug manufacturers, brand names are the marketing and "value" key, rather than the ingredients
You can read Pfizer's first letter of complaint, yourself. Since that time, everything Pfizer objected to, has been further researched by the medical profession, and is correct. As result, this website contains many blogs on the topic, like this one.
But note Pfizer's main reasons for objecting were that the information defamed the company by suggesting that Pfizer inappropriately and unethically promoted the use of PAMOL, and that these "representations have, or are likely to, cause Pfizer monetary loss as well as loss of reputation and goodwill". Pfizer is far more interested in what people think of them, and how much they earn, than the fact that a drug, touted as safe for babies, might work a gainst the baby's survival interests. The tenor of their letter is typical of how BigPharma views all those who try to accurately "educate" the public. Studying the language used is very instructive.
I was away at the time of the first letter, so the IAS did as they thought best, which provoked a second letter from Pfizer. At this point the decision was made to interrupt our holiday, as I was the one who had huge files on both fever and paracetamol.
The biggest impediment to disseminating the truth at the time, was the fact that Pfizer's actions effectively made the situation "sub-judicae". We were unable to defend ourselves publicly, because we were considered the ignorant guilty party who had to FIRST prove our innocence. Pfizer's NZ managing director pranced around, courted the media, getting exposure that no advertising could buy, and without blinking, villified the IAS and dismissed the truth in the process.
A similar situation applies to Krahling and Wlochowski. They will have to sit in silence, while Merck rolls out the huge unseen "Risk Management" fire department, because Merck is considered innocent, unless Krahling and Wlochowski prove Merck to be guilty.
I have some idea of what may be happening right now. Merck will most likely be pulling in all their media-friendly contacts and telling them not to cover the case. They will most likely contact every man and his dog with any potential to grease up the public; pull strings; deflect attention and downgrade any issues of real importance. They will most likely go to their well paid medical key opinion leaders, the media and various legal wheels, who will do everything possible, to keep the truth from being exposed. They will most likely go to the pro-Pharma sciblogs and other mouthpieces, and delegate them to decry any presentation of actual facts. These suppositions appear to be correct; witness the fact that USA and world wide lamestream media are mostly ignoring the court case.
But back to Pfizer 2004, and the matter of their nasty little acetaminophen product which was the subject of my ire.
Seeing Pfizer's New Zealand managing director, so smugly courting TV and print media made us all realise how important it was to fight Pfizer on this issue. We knew that the medical literature was very firmly on our side.
The media however, was sucked into the myth that Pfizer must be the only one who was correct. After all, they had co-opted two New Zealand eminent big-wig doctors and paraded them as "scientific backing". Surely, those doctors wouldn't support Pfizer unless IAS was wrong! I don't believe either doctor was ignorant of the issues. I believe both doctors knew that I and IAS were right, but .... this is how it goes. Truth at all times, must be guarded with a vanguard of lies, when it comes to BigPharma - and war - to mangle Churchill's words.
I wrote the rebuttal, sent it to IAS, who went through everything with a toothcomb, filed all the relevant articles and then sent the response to Pfizer. In Pfizer's reply, one of the most astonishing of their multiple whines, was that 80% of our references were more than five years old. Somehow, it escaped their notice that the drug had been on the market for nearly 50 years, and we were trying to show them that during most of that time, there was ample medical evidence to show that it shouldn't have been used in the way they advertised.
At the same time as defending myself, and the IAS, I took other actions, employing some people to do several chores.
The first job to track down the press release which Pfizer sent to IAS as part of their "scientific validation". (You can always tell when BigPharma employs dimwits, when they leave the name of the doctor co-opted into their complaint against you, on the top of the press release for all to see...) Oh by the way. You can read the medical study the press release was about, yourself, and see whether or not you think IAS comments were correct, or whether the press release was actually misrepresenting the facts!....
The press release wasn't ANYWHERE to be seen on the Otago Medical school press release listings. None of the media it was sent to, had seen it at the time it was purportedly published.
At first Otago Medical School were mystified, and said that it didn't come from them, because their releases were numbered and put up daily. THEN realising the enormity of a press release on their own letter head which they were denying was from them, ... they backtracked, saying that we would have to track down the author of the press release, and address our issues with him personally.
Oh yes, we tried. He was... um.... "overseas"... "at a conference", ... "at a different medical school"... and even a year later, just plain "not available". Any surprises there? Ah, but he's a busy man, you see.
Tack two was slightly different. I employed various people to access the websites mentioned on the outside of the box which the product came in - which gave websites which supposedly had "information" about the drug for the public to see. The listed website was a blank parked website, which had a link to Pfizer's website, which had precisely NOTHING on it.
The fact that this misinformation had gone on unchallenged for so many years, illustrates just how many parents are blind, because they trust the medical profession. After all, "Just use PAMOL" was the rote mantra, if you rang a doctor's surgery to ask what to do with a child with a fever. And surely, they would know! The rest of us don't use the product, and know why not to, so have no reason to look at their website in the first place.
Then I employed those same people to ring the company help line and ask a set of questions, none of which the company's employees, either could... or would... answer. So much for an information help-line, supposedly designed to intelligently assist in either informed choice, or factual information.
In the meantime, Pfizer came back with more threats, again, and again. It was obvious by this time, that their letters were more blustering intimidation and threats than "for real" legal action. I guess they knew they had been stung - and stung again, but were just trying to keep our mouths shut for a more extended period of time. And they succeeded, because by that time, as far as the media was concerned "Old news is NO news".
After that, a complaint was lodged against the company for various "sins," some of which were false packaging, advertising, and misleading websites etc.
That complaint was rejected, primarily because the Department of Health got behind the company saying that they had broken no laws that they knew of, and various other patsy supportive reasons, ... all related to what I perceive as, "never bite the hand that feeds you".
However, the "public" findings of that complaint did NOT appease the private opinions of the people charged with investigating it. Those people had to go through a vast array of factual medical information which patently showed the company WAS in factual and moral breach of every common sense interpretation of WHY the laws were set up. I doubt that privately, any of those people will see paracetamol use during infections, in the same light, ever again. That also made me wonder just how many language legal loop holes drug manufacturers lobby to have inserted into law to cover just these sorts of situations. No doubt there are legions of loopholes in USA legal language, as well.
At this point, I decided to call in a few favours and spoke to a lawyer well versed in Pfizer butt-protection strategies, for ideas on where to go next, and whether it was worth it.
This is where it got really interesting as far as I was concerned.
These are not the exact words used, but the following framed discussion, sets out the guts of what was said:
"Hilary, you're on a hiding to nothing. Big Pharma will take cases out, even when they know they are wrong, because they have the money, and can shut anyone up while they manipulate what is said, and co-opt KOL's who are in their "debt". Few of the KOLs think twice about backing their butts. They do it.
And even if a company knows they will lose, they take the case out because it's worth it to them."
Somewhere at that point I must have looked incredulous and asked something like, "How can it be worth it to them, if they are scientifically wrong?" (Naive eh?!) At this point he said something like:
"Look here"... and he drew a circle on a piece of paper, then drew a line down the middle. Then he wrote the word "Pfizer" in one half and the words "the rest" in the other half.
"To Pfizer you are just pesky chicken feed. To take a case out against you, even if they are wrong is worth it, because part of the reason to take a case out is to threaten, harrass, cause stress over a long period of time, and most of all COST YOU LOTS OF MONEY. Money to Big Pharma ... is nothing. Look at how much they spend, just to court doctors! Pfizer could throw $US30 million into this case against you, then try to drag it out forever, if it suited them. During that time, they will reap far more back from the drug than they spend defending it. It would also be worth it, even if you had persistence, and in 10 years time it looked like they might lose.... BECAUSE it will tie up your time, and drag you down financially, mentally, and emotionally which would divert you from doing anything else.
Drug manufacturers rely on the fact that little people don't usually have the money or the resources, so if they stretch that person far enough, that person will quickly back down and shut up. They will also use any situation to get publicity if they can, because media courts controversy. If it looks like there will either be no court resolution - or if you are persistent enough and a court resolution might hurt Big Pharma, they will offer you a very generous monetary bribe to keep it out of court, and silence you, so that the public will never know the truth. And they would attempt to offer you enough money to make it worth your while to shut up. As far as they are concerned, everyone has their price."
So I was left in a situation where I had to decide whether or not it was worth it, to chew a bone to oblivion, when the reality was that neither the media nor the public actually cared diddly squat about the issues - either about the detrimental effects of paracetamol during infection to their children, or whether or not Pfizer was just playing a bully's game for the sake of it.
I knew I had better things to do.
But the real decider to go no further, was because Pfizer perhaps saw the writing on the wall. They very quickly flicked the drug off to Johnson and Johnson, which pretty much guaranteed that any legal case would fall right through the cracks.
And that is often how BigPharma as a whole, does business. If one way doesn't work, they have other plans up their sleeves. Just as Pfizer was too big to taken down, my guess is that the same will apply to Merck.
Perhaps even more so now.
Any member of BigPharma which has huge resources, survives, partially for the same reason as Pfizer could not be brought to account:
The company's existence and finances, are protected by "altruism" for.... the underlings who know nothing about any collusion, fraud and complicity at the highest level. The other reason is that unless the "crime" is really huge, all the other "good" that the authorities perceive to exist in the company's product portfolio, are considered to "balance out" whatever wrong is alleged, and therefore is used to eliminate the seriousness of the charge.
Which about sums up the word "justice". A smack over the ear with a wet bus ticket.
Justice, when it comes to huge corporates, isn't usually about the "law" at all, because "law" does not equate to "truth". The process of law, more often than not, is about who has the most money, the most contacts, the bigger and broader agenda, and the smarts enough to twist all the justice, Governmental and media interests every which way, to their own benefit.
A corporate's case presented robustely and with great enthusiasm in a court of law, usually conforms to the various permutations of the LETTER of the law! But that evidence can also often be based on.... "an orchestrated litany of lies" - which is how Justice Mahon once described the airline evidence given during the court, about the Erebus crash.
The survival of BigPharma and those whose fortunes are dependant upon it, relies on Mr and Mrs Ewe'n'Mee having no idea of the orchestrated litany of lies, but to only be shown the letter of the law that matters to vested interests. The public usually greets Big Pharma corruption with disbelief, or have some deluded idea that previous lying and deceits by phamaceutical companies were just a "one-off" aberation.
And the truth is, that I didn't have any idea of the depth of Big Pharma's manipulation and power, until Pfizer took a cosh to IAS, and we all learned first hand.
At the time, Pfizer's protestations, in the face of proven medical fact, and the indefensible support of Pfizer by the Ministry of Health, felt like a surreal, never ending, unbelievable nightmare. To them, the truth, meant nothing.
What meant everything was....