Women Are Taking Too Many Drugs

Question: What are the most pressing health issues for women in the developed world? 

Judy Norsigian: Well in industrialized countries there is no question that the encroachment of the pharmaceutical industry and its marketing practices has deleteriously affected the kind of medical care we get and the decisions that consumers are making. Many countries don’t allow something we call DTC or direct to consumer advertising. The United States does and what has happened is that the pharmaceutical industry can directly market its products to consumers. 

Until late 1990s the pharmaceutical industry could only market prescription drugs to healthcare workers, to physicians and then there was a relaxing of those rules and they could market their product directly to consumers creating this clamor for the latest brand name product, which might not even necessarily be better or safer than the existing product on the market. 

What we see too is that because R&D is so expensive there are a whole bunch of me too drugs and that the pharmaceutical industry is largely engaged in producing drugs that will come on the market to deal with the fact that something is off patent. It’s going to be cheap because it will be generic, so we need something new and different. Maybe minisculely different from a previous drug and I think the story of Prilosec and Nexium is probably one of the best stories you can tell about a product that comes on the market really not any markedly different from the first product, but that can be sold at ten times the cost of the first product, sometimes more. Then you’ve got the issue of whether or not you control pharmaceutical pricing. That is a huge problem in terms of access to medicines that we do need access to and in many countries there are government controls over pharmaceutical pricing, but in the United States the drug industry’s lobby has been so powerful that we don’t see those same controls over drug company pricing. We’ve had some efforts. The VA Administration of course is one place where we’re able to see some measure of control over the pricing of drugs and the VA system actually is one of the best systems that functions in our country today. 

Question: How can women decipher the drug information they're getting? 

Judy Norsigian: All of our materials emphasize for women the fact that commercial interests are producing much of the written material, the electronic material, the TV shows that they see now, that they can’t assume that they’re getting unbiased, uncompromised information, that conflicts of interest exist everywhere. So we say learn the source of your information. Is it a drug company producing the material? Sometimes it’s actually not bad information, but very often it is all about minimizing the harms, the risks and maximizing the benefits and exaggerating the benefits, so you have to look deeper beyond the sort of 20 second bullet points you see. Even physicians are inappropriately influenced by pharmaceutical advertising and educational programming, so you can’t always depend on your physician. One excellent example is the overuse of statin drugs in women for primary prevention of heart attacks, things like that that for secondary prevention we have very good studies that show benefit for women, but not for primary prevention, so now women who simply have an elevated cholesterol level, no other problems are told to go on statin drugs when in fact in many cases they stand to be hurt more than helped. Getting at the kind of data that evidence based folks have produced, those without conflicts of interest, these are physicians and researchers whom we try to work closely with, getting at that information is often hard because it doesn’t make it onto television. It is certainly in the medical literature, but there is no PR company getting that out to you, the public, so we are a voice for those sources of uncompromised information. We make sure it is in lay language and we get it out at our website, through our blog. We have a very popular blog, Our Bodies, Our Blog that many women read every day and we send our readers and our listeners to these other sources of more dependable information where there aren’t conflicts of interest and that is something every single woman has to think about and be concerned about is where is the conflict of interest here, am I getting information that is truly not tainted by commercial interest. 

Another excellent example of where we saw this was in the recent new mammography guidelines produced by the US Preventive Services Taskforce. These are excellent guidelines. Those who have a lot to lose if women under 50 don’t get routine mammograms or if women over 50 do it maybe a little less frequently based upon their profile they have a lot to lose. Those are the ones critiquing this, not the evidence based folks. Those without conflicts of interest and there are many of them out there, have reviewed what the Preventive Services Taskforce has produced and certainly our experts, those for the National Women’s Health Network and several other wonderful organizations have to bat and said, “These are excellent guidelines.” “We should be following them.” It’s not about denying women care. And by the way, everyone should understand that mammography is a relatively weak tool for screening. We need better tools in the area of breast cancer. It’s not like pap tests where we have an excellent screening tool for cervical cancer. We’re not doing so well in the area of breast cancer, so there is an area where you would have seen the American Cancer Society. You would have seen some prominent folks in breast cancer treatment and people who have interests, in some cases in the equipment, the mammography equipment that is being sold. They have financial interest in it, so of course they don’t want to see the business go down. These are things the public doesn’t see very easily. 

Recorded on April 20, 2010

How women should think about their role in a society where prescriptions are everywhere.

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:

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Sex & Relationships
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Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
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