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William Heisel's Antidote: Investigating Untold Health Stories

William Heisel, former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, writes about investigative health reporting. He is currently the director of global engagement at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

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Let's assume that Dr. Conrad Murray did not kill Michael Jackson.

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What drives someone with a strong scientific reputation to cut a secret deal with a drug company for ghostwriting help just to have one more paper published?

Let's ask.

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Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman has become the go-to source for comments on how drug companies have been using ghostwriters to inject marketing messages into the medical literature, a controversy that prompted powerful Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to send a letter on Aug. 11 to the National Institutes of Health asking, among other things, "What is the current NIH policy on ghostwriting with regards to NIH researchers?"

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If DesignWrite, the medical communications firm that has been ghostwriting articles on behalf of drug giant Wyeth, were an elementary school student, it would have a stack of papers heavy with gold stars.

Dr. Gloria Bachmann, the associate dean for women's health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., told the company it had written an "an A plus article" after it wrote a review article that Bachmann agreed to sign. The article appeared with hardly a word changed in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

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In December, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Mitchell A. Leon, the president of DesignWrite Inc., the company that has now become Exhibit A in the unfolding ghostwriting scandal that has medical journal editors everywhere combing through their submissions looking for fakes.

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Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman is the principal investigator of PharmedOut, an educational campaign aimed at showing physicians how marketing influences their prescribing decisions. Originally funded by the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant, PharmedOut, among other things, offers continuing medical education to doctors, allowing them to earn credits without taking courses funded by drug or device companies.

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In a fascinating piece in the New York Times, Natasha Singer detailed how Dr. Gloria Bachmann leapt at the chance to sign her name to an article she had not written.

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The New York Times and the medical journal PloS Medicine won an incredible victory for patients and for health writers last week. They persuaded a judge in a lawsuit against drug makers to release 1,500 previously sealed documents that tell the story of how drug companies like Wyeth have been acting as ghost writers in medical journals.

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This is the second part of my conversation with Dr. John Dombrowski, a Washington D.C. anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who sits on the American Society of Anesthesiology's administrative affairs committee.

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Anesthesiologists everywhere cringed when they heard the news that Michael Jackson was found dead with a bag of propofol nearby.

The drug is too strong to be used as a sleep aid and deceptively simple to administer. Anesthesia drugs like propofol require constant monitoring, and Jackson, apparently, was
left unattended after receiving the drug.

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