In my previous post I explained what happened to me when I visited a diabetic consultant years ago and was put on a brand new wonder drug that promised to be the solution to all of my blood sugar problems.  Unfortunately the experience was less than wonderful and I suffered a horrible allergic reaction to the drug I was given.  Keen to help me fix my blood sugar problems, but still eager to push me onto a brand new insulin, the doctor suggested I begin taking a second one that had just become available.  But instead of helping me it made me suffer an even worse reaction over the long-term and I suffered from symptoms I’d never wish upon my worst enemy.

The new drug left me depressed, feeling alone and almost suicidal, I just didn’t care about my own life any more.  You can read more details about just how bad things got in this post here.  Unfortunately it seemed the consultant that was treating me had been dazzled by a drug company representative, whether at a conference or who knows, maybe they had visited the hospital and met a group of diabetic staff, but either way the doctor/consultant was clearly blown away by the drug company’s rep because he was left with a lot of ( quite tacky) merchandise with the drug company’s logo on it.  And more importantly (for the drug company) a very persuasive argument for why all of his patients should start using their new diabetic drug.

Nothing new

It isn’t the first time a diabetic doctor has been keen to switch over all his patients to the latest diabetic drugs.  When insulin was first available it was taken from animals, hence the name ‘animal’ insulin and the majority of diabetics seemed to cope well.  But in the eighties to nineties a radical ‘human’ insulin was created in a lab (not from humans).  It was so called because it was supposed to be so similar to the insulin in a non-diabetic’s body that virtually every diabetic was switched over to this new type of drug, whether they liked it or not.

Many diabetics were not happy with the change, suffering a range of different symptoms that left them less than happy with the new drug, but diabetic consultants around the country (and probably most of the world) insisted that the new insulins were better and argued down a lot of diabetics who wanted to go back to taking their previous medicines.  Now in the early 2000s it seemed to be happening again, except this time the doctors were keen to switch everyone taking ‘human’ insulin to the newer ‘analogue’ insulins, regardless of whether they really were better for the patient or not.

Too eager for new drugs?

The two experiences I had, the allergic reactions to being given the latest drugs/insulins available, have made me very wary of those who are so keen to push new drugs on to patients. Many doctors like my consultant at the time are often too keen to put their patients on the latest drugs without properly researching them first.  It doesn’t help that the consultant had clearly either been to a conference run by the drug company, or been visited by a rep who did a good job of dazzling him with how great the new wonder drug was.

The fact that the consultant had cheap and tacky free merchandise with the drug company’s logo on it only proves how easy it was for this doctor to be swayed by everything the pharmaceutical rep had told him.  Even if he wasn’t someone who was easily swayed, it’s a well known fact, and a clever psychological tool used by advertisers, that keeping a logo of a brand displayed clearly around someone’s environment will make that person more likely to pick that branded product over another.

The doctor making the decision on what was best for me didn’t look at all the available options and decide what was best for his patient based on his own research into this and other drugs.  Instead he picked the newest drug which didn’t have any long-term data, all because of some great speech and some fun freebies from the pharmacutical company.  Of course new drugs can help a lot of patients and there can be huge benefits for some patients in taking a new drug that’s just been created. But when it comes to switching patients on to these new drugs, how many doctors make their decisions without any form of bias?  How many areswayed by the latest speeches and free merch?

I was never told of the side effects that could occur when taking either of the insulins I was given and to this day it turns out that many people have not had a positive experience with the first insulin I was given.  In fact, some studies even suggested that the drug could potentially cause cancer in some patients, and although the drug was still approved, the safety of the drug is still inconclusive in the long-term and I know of some who still question and refuse to take it.

Can we trust our doctors?

The problem with new drugs is that we just don’t know the long-term side effects and it seems many doctors (though not all) just aren’t willing or interested in knowing this either.  Many doctors today, through one reason or another, maybe time constraints or simply plain naivety, seem to be too trusting of drug companies who spout about how brilliant their drugs are.  The doctors are either ignorant or simply ignore the fact that drug companies often fail to give the true data on how well their drugs really worked in tests. It’s known and been documented on television some time ago that drug companies often don’t share all the data from their testing, they only share the results of those tests that worked in favour of their new wonder drug.  It sounds strange but it is true that if a drug company has done, say, ten different studies into whether a drug works, and nine of those studies fail, but one doesn’t, they can easily show doctors the one study that worked and claim their drug is wonderful.  The other nine study results are hidden away, never to be seen.

So many doctors, especially those that are well-meaning, or maybe new to the profession, are so eager to help their patients and want to give them the best treatments but when they are listening to drug reps go on and on about how wonderful their latest drugs are, and are happy to collect free merchandise as if they were at a concert, you have to question just how unbiased their later decisions are when they switch patients to some of these newer drugs.  Do the doctors ever think about the side effects of a new drug or the mental health effects of changing a patient’s treatments when they are so used to using something else?

Are doctors these days making decisions on which drugs are best for us based on their own research into all the drugs available? Or are they letting the latest advertising and dazzling speeches by pharmaceutical company representatives sway them to put their own patients on these new drug regimes, even if it’s not the right drug for the patient? Are doctors really making decisions on what is best for the patient and discussing all the options with them? Or are they swayed into making decisions based on the clever marketing by the drug companies?  And it is no secret that the drug companies can and do as much advertising as possible of their latest drugs, after all they may be creating new medicines, but they are also companies that want to make huge profits for their share holders.

When it comes to trusting doctors with my own health I have become wary of putting my faith and trust in a doctor who seems too keen to put me on the latest drugs based on some recent study without knowing the long-term side effects.  I no longer believe that every doctor has my best interests at heart and I now do a lot of research myself and I question the pros and cons of any drug I am asked to take, before I take it.  I don’t believe that all doctors mean to be drug pushers and I don’t believe that many of them even realise that they are being so easily swayed by the drug companies. But at the same time a lot of them are, and some of them even work for some drug compatines, and these doctors seem to no longer be willing to go that extra mile to research the true effects of new drugs on their patients and to research all the options of what is available.

Trusting your doctor

You may trust your doctors completely and if you have someone who truly thinks of your best interests then count yourself very lucky and do what you think is right. But if you find yourself concerned with a new treatment or drug that your doctor wants to prescribe you, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure that what you are getting is something you feel fully comfortable in taking.

In my experience I don’t believe the diabetic consultant I had, even realised how his favour had been bought by the drug company, unless he did and was one of the doctors who had been sponsored by/worked for them…unfortunately it can and does happen.  He never discussed other treatment options, changes to my diet, timing or insulin ratios, he just wanted me to use the latest insulin no matter how little proof he had it would be better.  And of course he never suggested that I use the very old ‘animal’ insulin which has been proven to cause few side effects and has a lot of long-term proof of its use.  No, instead his decision to place me, and countless other patients in the clinic, (I later discovered) on this new wonder drug was a biased one, and made more blatantly biased with all the free merch he’d received in return.

Doctors, though well-meaning, aren’t always making the best decisions for us, their patients, and in recent years it seems apparent that many doctors are also ill-informed about what drugs are really available for their patients as well. An example is the animal insulin I mentioned above.  Animal insulin (invented in the 1920s) is still available to this day (and is what I used for many years since the horrible allergic reactions) but despite this, many doctors still claim this insulin type is no longer manufactered and that it’s no longer prescribed.  The reason for this must be because the drug companies now shun animal insulin as no longer useful (it doesn’t make them much of a profit and is unlikely to be patented any more).  It also doesn’t help that many medical books that doctors use when training also state this insulin to be obsolete (I’ve seen the text books for myself).

The reality when faced with a new drug

As a patient it’s up to us to make the decision on whether a new drug is the best choice for us,  regardless of whether that drug is the latest pill for a chronic condition or an injection to prevent us from getting sick from a scary new virus. The choice should ultimately rest with us and whether we choose to take a drug or treatment should be our choice and we should be allowed to refuse and ask for something different if we don’t want what is offered. Nobody should ever be forced to take a drug, especially one where the long-term side effects are unknown and where extensive testing on the long-term risks hasn’t been done.  We have a right to ask doctors what the long-term side effects are?  We have a right to ask doctors if they can guarantee that the benefits out-weigh the risks?  We have a right to ask the doctors to tell us the truth, have they really done as much research into the drugs as we think?

Our bodies are ultimately ours and what we choose to put inside them is our choice and nobody elses.  Remember that the next time you feel pressured to take something for your health.  Weigh up the options, do your own research and if you feel even a tiny niggle of doubt, don’t take what’s offered, no matter how persuasive the doctors may seem.  These days there is very often other options for drugs or treatments and if your doctor is reluctant to give you what you want (like mine was when I wanted to start using animal insulin) find another doctor who will.  Doctors might be pushed for time but they really shouldn’t rely on the latest advertising by drug companies or be dazzled by a few great words by a professional speaker.  Drug companies are ultimately businesses, they exist to make a profit, and they often want to push out new drugs onto many patients without knowing the longer-term risks.  If you feel very comfortable in taking a new drug then that is your choice but remember it is and should always be a choice.  It should never be forced.  Never.

Please remember this if you ever hear of someone who is reluctant or against taking a new drug or treatment, no matter in what circumstances. Remember it is their choice.  And they have a right to refuse, just like you have a right to refuse or to take it if you want to.  Don’t push someone to take something they do not want.  It is their choice.

If you are scared of what could happen to you or others if someone doesn’t take a drug or preventative treatment, and you think that these drugs or treatments should be forced or mandatory, then before you speak out just remember this:  There once was a very bad group of people who forced drugs on prisoners who didn’t want them, in concentration camps during the second world war…The prisoners were tortured with the drugs they were forced to take.  And none of us would want that sort of thing to happen again, would we?…Would you?

To read part 1 of this post please click here.

Do you feel that you can trust doctors when it comes to the drugs and treatments they offer you?  Do you believe that patient choice matters when it comes to taking certain drugs?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂