Giselle Grayson researched this story for NPR. “This is the story of how pills for osteopenia ended up in Benghauser’s medicine cabinet, and in the medicine cabinets of millions of women like her all over the United States. But more broadly, it’s the story of how the definition of what constitutes a disease evolves, and the role that drug companies can play in that evolution.”
Apparently in 1992 a panel of experts on osteoporosis from all over the world met to try to set a standard of treatment for the disease.
“The question before the experts in Rome then was this: Since after the age of 30 all bones lose density, how much bone loss was normal? And, how much put women at risk and therefore should be considered a disease?”
They argued for 3 days, it was hot and they were tired, so someone finally drew a line on the chart and said everyone on the wrong side of the line had a disease. Then they arbitrarily decided to call the time leading up to osteoporosis, osteopenia, a term they coined on the spot.
Instantaneously women experiencing the normal aging process all over the world now had a disease that was looking for a treatment. Now, 17 years later, women whose bone density is just a hair away from that of the average healthy 30-year old, are not only medicated for osteopenia but literally scared to live normal lives for fear of breaking bones.
In 1995 Merck released a new drug supposed to treat osteoporosis. Unfortunately for them no-one was interested. So they hired a guy to find a way to market this potential blockbuster drug. He decided that he had to get cheaper bone testing machines into as many doctor’s offices as possible. He set up a fake non-profit company and set out to take control of the companies creating bone testing machines. It is interesting to read about the arm twisting and double dealing Merck pulled to get this to happen.
Anyway it worked very well for them. Now most women in the US are tested and found wanting in the bone density department and the normal thinning of bone that comes with age and menopause is now cured with a prescription for a drug that has serious side-effects and has never been proven to prevent fractures.
The report goes on to say, “When millions of women are getting the word ‘osteopenia’ from the bone density test that they are getting in their 50s and 60s, they get worried,” Cummings says. “When a clinician sees the word ‘osteopenia’ on a report, they think that it’s a disease. They want to know: What should I do?”
Additionally, Merck, and eventually other companies, run commercials advertising drugs to prevent osteoporosis. Those commercials don’t feature humped grannies but young-looking women. And Cummings says at a certain stage it simply reaches a tipping point.
“Bone densitometry becomes increasingly available. And women start wanting it, and they hear their friends have had a measurement of bone density, and their friend was told that they have osteopenia, and they want to know if they have that condition. And then their friend starts getting treated with Fosamax or some other drug, and they want to know if they should be treated,” Cummings trails off. “It’s almost viral.”
“Studies in women with osteopenia show that while Fosamax and similar drugs reduce spinal fractures, the drugs may not reduce other types of bone fractures that are more common in women who have osteopenia, say Cummings and Susan Ott, an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Washington.”
“There was no difference in the number of [nonspine] fractures you had, whether you took the medicine or a placebo,” says Ott. “It does make your bone density go up higher, but the number of fractures is what really matters, and that didn’t really change”
And what about the long term?
“There are no long-term studies that look at what happens to women with osteopenia who start Fosamax in their 50s and continue treatment long-term in the hopes of preventing old-age fractures. And none are planned.”
In my opinion, they don’t study it because they already have the medical profession prescribing and most women snowed into taking drugs that are dangerous for dubious benefits. Dr Ott says that the drugs may actually make the bones brittle and cause fractures, but not in the first five years, only much later.
The guy who developed the plan to get cheap testing equipment into the marketplace says, “I get a great sense of satisfaction that I was able to rejigger the marketplace so that women could be treated for osteoporosis before it got them,” Allen says. “That was a good episode of my life.”
From Allen’s perspective, by making a treatment for osteoporosis widely available, he helped save millions of lives.
But Mazess, from the Lunar Corp., doesn’t see it that way. “He was complicit in a plot to misdiagnose American women,” Mazess says of Allen.
From Mazess’ perspective, millions of women with osteopenia are now needlessly exposed to the risks of a medication that may not ultimately help them. “
From my perspective it is even worse than that because I believe that the drugs are ultimately and often, immediately, harmful and have actually ruined many lives. What I don’t understand is why doctors don’t do any research themselves on medications. They just swallow the drug companies line while knowing that the drug companies have been proven over and over again in the last ten years to be liars and cheats.
So, read or listen to the whole article and tell your friends to do the same. It is imperative that we do our own research before taking any form of drugs. The drug companies are not looking out for our interests, only for their own profits.