Friday 3 October 2014

It's not a conflict of interest when we do it

From the Telegraph...

New drug for 'mild alcoholics' drinking two glasses of wine a night

Hundreds of thousands of people drinking half a bottle of wine a night are to be put on the first ever drug to help reduce alcohol consumption, under plans announced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Men drinking three pints of beer and women drinking two large glasses of wine per night and who do not cut down within two weeks should be prescribed a new drug, Nice has said.

There are an estimated 750,000 people in the UK who would be eligible for nalmefene who show no overt symptoms associated with their drinking.

Not all 'public health' groups are in favour of this mass medication, but Alcohol Concern have been widely quoted in support of it...

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “It is important that there is a variety of treatments available to support people who want help with their alcohol dependency.

"The introduction of nalmefene will be a useful addition to the clinician’s toolbox, when used in conjunction with other treatment methods to tackle the harmful consequences of alcohol misuse.”

Nalmefene is commercially sold as Selincro by the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck. Readers with an excellent memory will remember Lundbeck being mentioned on this blog before. In May 2013, I wrote:

Maybe Alcohol Concern has found some non-state funding at last. As the press release notes, "Alcohol Concern partnered with pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Ltd to commission and communicate the findings of the survey." Lundbeck have just brought out a stop-drinking drug.

Lundbeck are indeed funding Alcohol Concern. They sponsored their annual conference last month and they have funded various research projects, including a report that called for alcohol treatment to be extended to a wider range of drinkers.

I, for one, am delighted that Alcohol Concern is finally receiving some private donations. Hopefully they will now wean themselves off taxpayers' money (although I won't hold my breath). There are, however, two points that need to be raised.

Firstly, whilst I have no particular beef with the pharmaceutical industry in general, they have been rightly criticised for relying on over-diagnosis and over-medication to flog more product. The invention of a new category of patients termed "mild alcoholics" who show "no overt symptoms" and yet need to be put on state-funded medication is straight out of this disreputable playbook.

Secondly, the temperance lobby—like the public health lobby in general—is absolutely obsessed with supposed conflicts of interest with industry. In the last year, the Institute of Economic Affairs and other think tanks have been the subject of a ridiculous ad hominem attack from a gutter journalist writing for the British Medical Journal which was based on assumed financial relationships that did not, in fact, exist. I have also had to personally contact the Lancet to have the false claim that I am an "alcohol industry consultant" removed from one of the Sheffield University minimum pricing 'studies' (see correction here).

Writing about the intellectual sewer of prohibitionism, I have come to expect ad hominem attacks as a first, and often only, response. I assume that Alcohol Concern think that Lundbeck's drug is a genuinely useful product and that the company can help them advance their mission. It would be nice if they assumed the same good faith of others but, again, I won't hold my breath.

Either way, it seems incongruous to rant and rave about the slightest perceived industry funding and then jump into bed with Big Pharma (perhaps this is just another example of how the temperance lobby is emulating the anti-smoking lobby). If people now choose to describe Alcohol Concern as a Big Pharma "stooge", "front group" or "shill", they will have only themselves to blame.

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