Phony pharmaceuticals

May 8th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science | 4 Comments »

Phony pharmaceuticals

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 8, 2003
The Guardian

· Jim Gobert writes from Australia with the news that Pan Pharmaceuticals, the country’s largest contract manufacturer of alternative medicines, is having to recall what could amount to 70% of all complementary medicines sold there. It all began in January when a complementary travel sickness pill, Travacalm, sent 19 people to hospital and caused 91 adverse reactions. According to Australia’s health secretary, “some people were very, very ill and tried to jump out of planes and off ships because of the hallucinatory effect it had”.

The problem was that the levels of the active ingredient were rather higher than stated on the label. Investigators found that dosages of other active ingredients in other Pan products, such as vitamin and mineral pills, also varied – by as much as 700%. Last week Pan was stripped of its manufacturing licence for six months, accused of serious safety and quality breaches. So far 668 Pan products have been recalled and another 300 are being investigated. As Jim says: “Bad news: 1,000 different products to be recalled. Good news: you didn’t need them anyhow.”

· Derek Morris writes: “As a retired physics teacher it was galling to see 300 years of science teaching set at nought by A Question of Sport. Ally McCoist’s team were given the task of arranging a number of balls from different sports in decreasing order of weight. They decided to test them by a rough experiment assuming the heavier would fall faster_”

· I find it extraordinary that 40% of parents getting single vaccines for their children are medically trained. “One GP told us that he felt extremely guilty about bringing his son to us on a Saturday, when he had been advising patients to choose the combined MMR jab all week,” a medical worker told a newspaper last week. Hello?

· Dr John Henry of the National Poisons Unit estimates that up to 30,000 people may die from smoking cannabis each year. Not bad for a drug with no recorded fatalities in 3,000 years. Many papers sweetened the story with that old chestnut about the potency of marijuana having increased tenfold since the 70s. The US government-funded potency monitoring project at the University of Mississippi has analysed tens of thousands of samples provided by law enforcement teams over the same time period … and found potency stable at between 2% and 3.5% for two decades.

Please send your Bad science to: bad.science@guardian.co.uk


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