The Bigger Quack

A recent discussion on Facebook blew up regarding medical solutions for a certain form of cancer. It was heated! Are alternative treatments viable? Or are most of these 'alternative treatments' just revenue generators for quacks? The discussion was passionate and went back and forth between very smart people, between some bearing direct experience with disease and treatments, and others who were armed with well-considered theory. The crux of the debate was the Burzynski clinic in Texas. Links were flying for all sorts of ailments, scams and surprising statistics.

Then one voice in the discussion said something that cooled the forum. His young son has a condition that had prompted research into all types of therapies, he said, the usual and alternative.

"The thing is," he said, "not every treatment works for everyone." That took the vinegar out of the debate. It stopped people.

We tend to think that a treatment, say a chemo regimen, works the same for everyone. Not so.

Risks in developing drugs

One person may quit smoking using Chantix (I did), but it just doesn't work for someone else (my Ex). It's the same with treatments for disease. Even for something like pain and inflammation.

Ergo, said my Facebook friend, not only should we look into alternative therapies and see if they seem to work for folks of similar constitution/condition/causes as the patient's, we should look to see what's not working. Look hard at side effects. Look at any and all related lawsuits.

"Burzynski gets a bad rap because he is self funded and he charges for trials and treatments," said my Friend. "Big pharma does trials for free because they have big $ for R&D. They also have money to pay out fines if necessary. And let's face it, big pharma does a lot of R&D on the general public while charging for it also." It has to do with how drugs are approved in the US.

"Vioxx is an example," he said. "Vioxx was a drug that wasn't tested long enough and it killed 60,000 people. If you or I killed that many people we'd be jailed for several lifetimes, someone like Burzynski would too. Drug company gets a slap on the hand and a fine."

[Note that the 60,000 deaths figure is hard to prove, but that figure is recorded here and here.]

Merck paid out billions of dollars to settle tens of thousands of Vioxx lawsuits.

So maybe the guy in Texas turns out to be a little off base (maybe not, but let's say he does). Let's look again at the company that pushed Vioxx to market and the doctors who prescribed it. Who, the FB Friend argued, is the bigger quack?