Trust is indispensible for effective drugs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am


We all know about banksters. Perhaps we can now add 'drugsters' to our vocabulary. The largest drug companies, it seems, are not far behind the big banks when it comes to corporate malfeasance. Earlier this month, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to fraud in the US for the way it promoted several drugs, including the marketing of its popular antidepressant Paxil to treat children and teenagers. Parents should be concerned.

GSK admitted to offering lavish entertainment to doctors and having misled drug regulators on data about adolescents who had suffered self-inflicted injuries or attempted suicide after taking Paxil. For this and other fraud charges, it was fined US$3 billion, the largest penalty in the health care sector so far. It followed the previous record of US$2.3 billion imposed in 2009 on Pfizer for mis-promoting drugs and a settlement of more than US$1 billion being finalised against Johnson & Johnson for misleading patients and doctors about the risks of taking its antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

Worldwide, more and more young people are being put on prescription drugs to deal with an ever-widening range of mental and behavioural conditions. The reprehensible behaviour of GSK and its peers has sown distrust among patients and parents. It has made it more confusing for parents thinking about drug treatment for children with special needs. The tragedy is that Paxil and other drugs involved in these scandals help people if prescribed properly.

An increasingly common condition that has led teachers and doctors to advise drug treatment is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. More and more children in Hong Kong and elsewhere are being diagnosed with it. I am not casting doubt on the efficacy of the drugs used or the integrity of the companies that produce them. But making a decision is confusing enough for parents without those scandals to think about. I have come across two excellent teachers who have supervised children medicated for ADHD. One was enthusiastic, the other was not; hardly helpful! It's times like these when we need trust in doctors and drug makers.