Sunday, January 11, 2009

Promoting Chantix is a High-Paying Gig

This is from today's article at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It really should set off warning sirens when you see a pharmaceutical company like Pfizer paying $1000/day to psychiatrists to talk about Chantix. If the drug is so wonderful and safe, shouldn't an honest psychiatrist be willing to speak about it for free? Of course, his time is valuable... but if he genuinely cares about people and believes in this drug, why would it cost Pfizer so much to get him to speak?

As a comparison, I gave a talk about the benefits of using hypnosis for smoking cessation last Sunday, and guess how much I was paid? Well, since it was a completely free event, I was paid nothing. Of course, I'm not completely innocent... I did make a bit of money selling hypnosis CD's afterwards. However, I also provided hypnosis services during the presentation, and I know for a fact that some people in attendance haven't had a puff all week.

So here's the story... just another example of a big drug company paying a reputable psychiatrist to push its latest wonder drug. It's really only notable because of the fact that since he gave the speeches, Chantix has emerged as the most dangerous new pharmaceutical drug on the market.

Just see this direct quote from the article:

"Chantix has been associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, blackouts and serious injuries."

Eric Heiligenstein, the University of Wisconsin-Madison psychiatrist who received large sums of cash to speak about the benefits of this dangerous drug, says he "doesn't have second thoughts" because... get this... another stop smoking drug also has serious risks.

Uh, Your Honor? I object.

Mr. Heiligenstein seems to be saying that it's okay to promote a drug that causes people to kill themselves because other drugs on the market also cause harm. I suppose that means it's always okay to promote any drug, even if it causes people to immediately jump off of tall buildings, simply due to the fact that other dangerous drugs have also been approved by the FDA.

Remember, these are the people who are telling you that pharmaceutical drugs are safe. Keep that in mind when making a choice regarding your mental and physical well-being.

Keep in mind that no hypnotist or hypnotherapist is getting paid $1000/day to speak out about the benefits of hypnosis. Yes, we might make a decent living by helping people to stop smoking and lose weight, but there is no multi-billion-dollar establishment paying us to push our wares.

Click here for the full article from the Journal-Sentinel.


Eric said...

Re: MJS Fauber’s article on conflict of interest.

Although I followed up my phone interview with Mr. Fauber with two detailed emails that provided easily verifiable factual information, his article about me contains significant inaccuracies. While he did quote a few things I said, most of the important information I provided was left out, including the critical fact that I stopped doing promotional speaking for Pfizer in November 2007, prior to taking the Medical Director position for WiNTiP in January 2008. As written, the article implies that I have a conflict of interest. This is absolutely not the case. Moreover, WiNTiP is a 2-hour-per-week commitment, not a full-time position, as implied in the article.

The article also appears to portray me as callous to individuals who have suffered serious adverse effects from Chantix. Mr. Fauber failed to mention that the majority of those presentations were given before the potential adverse side effects of the medication were known.

The article also failed to point out the undisputed fact that Chantix is unquestionably the most effective smoking-cessation medication available to date.

It is regrettable that MJS readers did not get all the details needed to make an informed judgment.


Eric Heiligenstein, MD

Sean Wheeler said...


The information left out doesn't strike me as significant. What's significant here is that Pfizer paid you nearly $1,000 per day to promote Chantix.

This isn't merely a question of whether you are a callous person, it's a question of whether the incestuous relationship between trusted medical professionals and billion-dollar pharmaceutical giants is in the best interest of the people.

Can someone like you be trusted to speak freely and honestly when you are being paid enormous sums of money to promote a new and powerful drug?

Furthermore, you, as a psychiatrist, know better than anyone that all new drugs on the market have side-effects that have yet to be discovered. Phase 2 of clinical testing occurs when these drugs are approved by the FDA and made available to the public.

Would you tell the families of the people who have committed suicide within weeks of taking Chantix that it is "unquestionably the most effective smoking-cessation medication available to date," or that "smoking is also dangerous?" Perhaps you would tell them that those side-effects are very rare... and that their deceased loved one represents a tiny percentage of those who have taken the drug. That information may be comforting to you, but I doubt it would be to them.

Do you have any moral issues accepting thousands of dollars from a company that routinely pays millions in cash settlements to people who have been harmed by their products? A company that routinely conceals information that would be beneficial to the public for fear of legal repercussions?

Or how about a company that engages in deceptive advertising that allows them to avoid listing the dangerous side-effects of Chantix?

Here's a link for the story on that:

This is not to say that you are a bad person, Eric. On the contrary, you likely believe in what you are doing, because that is what you were trained to believe... that when people have problems, chemical intervention is the best available method.

Fortunately for you, there will never be a shortage of opportunities to make cash by promoting pharmaceuticals. Nor will there be a shortage of people who suffer the consequences before the dangerous side-effects eventually emerge and cause Pfizer or Merck to pull the drug, issue proper warnings and pay millions to the families of the victims.

This, of course, is no problem for the most profitable Fortune 500 companies in the world.

It is regrettable that the average person does not get all the details needed to make an informed judgment about whether or not to take these drugs.


Sean Wheeler, CHT