In the wake of recent product liability allegations that GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia can cause heart disease, many have been quick to condemn the Food and Drug Administration for being too lenient in authorizing drug use and monitoring drug safety. While it is clear that the FDA is imperfect, there is another glaring contributor to problems caused by the widespread use of unsafe drugs in America. Most states, including Illinois, establish requirements that doctors continue medical education by meeting a minimum amount of credit hours each year in order to maintain their medical licenses. While some courses are offered by universities and medical associations, half of these courses are financed by drug companies.
Since 1998, the funding of continuing medical education by drug companies has quadrupled. In the case of Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline sponsored numerous educational courses for doctors that promoted the benefits of Avandia while downplaying the risks. Furthermore, Merck funded courses that endorsed its drug Vioxx that disregarded its dangers. During the drug’s five years on the market it caused an estimated 140,000 cases of serious heart disease. While there are laws meant to prevent this abuse of the continuing medical education system, drug companies have found loopholes that make this unethical practice possible. As a result of this abuse of the system, drug companies are profiting at the expense of the health and safety of patients.
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