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In the past few months, headlines and news stories have seemed to predominantly feature pharmaceuticals. Perhaps it is only because I look for such reports, but it certainly seems as if there are many more articles than usual. Many of these stories are negative, as they focus on the adverse effects of drugs, removal of drugs from the market, misconduct in clinical trials, or miscommunication between companies and the FDA. Often these reports appear to cast a negative light on pharma companies. They seem to suggest that sales pressures cause decisions to be made that favor company profits over consumer safety. Accepted practices of the industry such as direct-to-consumer advertising have come under siege. Clearly there may have been misbehavior by some pharma companies, but I think most company executives have tried to make balanced decisions. Hindsight always makes it easier to criticize decisions because the right choice now seems obvious. When the initial decision was made, however, the choice was not as clear. All drugs can do some harm, but many do a lot of good. Perhaps it is not profit driving the decision, but a desire to help that drives the decision.
Many colleagues I worked with, students I taught, and peers whom I respect work for pharma companies. I am unwilling to believe that the majority of these people whom I admired would lose their ethics because of the source of their paycheck. Could it be that when you join the pharmaceutical industry you gain a different perspective and more information that ends up leading to different decisions being made? Thus, the issue is not unethical behavior, but that more information and different perspectives lead to different decisions. Most of the issues getting headlines today require decision making without complete information. The decision only becomes black and white in hindsight. Let us work together to change policy where appropriate, but we do not want to destroy pharma companies because of wrong accusations being made about the ethical behavior of pharma employees.