It's time once again to play the "What if it were a Natural Treatment?" game!
Let's say you own a giant vitamin company. And let's say you develop a vitamin B-3 product to treat schizophrenia and it becomes a best seller, racking up sales of more than $4 billion per year. But before you start daydreaming about owning your own tropical island and the private jet you would use to fly there, you should know that a lawyer recently gave the New York Times a big stack of your company's internal documents that reveal an effort by your executives to suppress information about the health risks associated with vitamin B-3.
Yeah, it turns out you've known for years that prolonged use of your product sharply increases obesity and high blood sugar risks. So brace yourself - you can probably expect a congressional inquiry and a widespread call from the mainstream media for a total ban of your product.
If only you manufactured a DRUG for schizophrenia instead. Because then you could count on getting one of those dreaded slaps on the wrist from the FDA.
Executives at Eli Lilly have apparently been playing a similar kind of game - but it's an exact reverse of the game played by you and your gigabucks vitamin company. Late last month, the New York Times reported that lawyer James B. Gottstein provided the Times with e-mail messages, memos, and other Lilly internal documents that reveal an apparent effort to suppress the health risks associated with a schizophrenia medication called Zyprexa.
Mr. Gottstein gained access to the documents through a case in which he represented mentally ill patients. Mr. Gottstein told the Times, "Patients should be told the truth about drugs like Zyprexa." What a concept! According to the Times, Lilly's records show that some patients have gained more than 100 pounds while using Zyprexa, while about 30 percent of patients who use the drug for at least a year gain more than 20 pounds.
Apparently, Lilly's records also show that medical officers for the company have known for years that the drug may prompt hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and weight gain, but sales materials persuaded company representatives to promote Zyprexa as "safe," and "gentle." And the icing on the cake: Lilly has already paid $750 million to settle suits filed by Zyprexa patients who claimed to have developed type 2 diabetes while using the drug. The Times notes that there are thousands more of these suits pending.
Evidence? What evidence?
As you might expect, spokespeople for Lilly defended their drug, hauling out that lame old excuse that the documents had been taken out of context. Right - I'm sure if we knew the context, rapid weight gain and high blood sugar would actually seem like a very beneficial side effect! Lilly Reps also added that "no scientific evidence" had established Zyprexa as a cause of diabetes.
But then the Times slams that door with this detail: "Lilly has never conducted a clinical trial to determine exactly how much Zyprexa raises patients' diabetes risk." Cute, isn't it? You don't mount a trial that would produce scientific evidence about your product, but when the accusations start flying, you throw up your hands and say, "There's no scientific evidence!" Toward the end of the Times piece, there's a surprising moment of sanity when psychiatrist James Phelps explains that Zyprexa works very quickly, so he prescribes the drug to address emergency situations, such as acute psychosis with a danger of suicide.
He told the Times, "I'm trying to get my patients off Zyprexa, not put them on."
No playing around
Vitamin B-3 was not an arbitrary choice for the "What if it were a Natural Treatment?" game. Patients with schizophrenia are typically deficient in vitamin B-3 (also known as niacin), and in some cases patients respond to high doses of the vitamin. This was proven in a 1952 study that's mostly been ignored by the medical mainstream.
That first niacin/schizophrenia study was conducted by Abram Hoffer, M.D., who wrote a book on the subject more than 40 years later: "Vitamin B-3 and Schizophrenia: Discovery, Recovery, Controversy." You can find Dr. Hoffer's book on amazon.com.