Is that advice legit, or did Big Pharma pay for it?

If you were to land on the website for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, you would find inspiring stories, loads of tips, and a great big button that reminds you to “support IBD patients” by donating to the group today!

But what you wouldn’t know is that no fewer than nine big drugmakers have already donated – and that includes AbbVie, which makes the Crohn’s drug Humira.

In fact, Pharma has filled the bank accounts of all sorts of patient advocacy groups to the tune of over $67 million – and that was just in 2015!

So, before you write a check to the American Heart Association, the Arthritis Foundation, the American Cancer Society, or any one of dozens of others, you need to know who else is stuffing their bank accounts.

Fortunately, thanks to a new investigation, knowing who’s paying who is no longer a deep, dark secret, but something you can find out in just a few clicks.

That way, you won’t unknowingly be allowing these organizations to convince you to take any of the risky drugs their benefactors make.

Money talks

Just like all of the Big Pharma money that changes hands between drugmakers and doctors, that cash cavalcade also flows right into the pockets of advocacy groups that have promised to be independent advocates for patients.

And believe me, Pharma wouldn’t bother “donating” to those groups if it didn’t help its own bottom line.

Now, a new investigation by Kaiser Health News (not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente) has unearthed a lot of what’s going on, and it isn’t very reassuring about where these groups are getting their marching orders.

For example, in 2015:

  • The American Heart Association received over $3 million from 11 drugmakers (including Merck, Pfizer, and Eli Lilly),
  • the Patient Access Network Foundation took in a whopping $31 million from only two companies (Pfizer and AbbVie),
  • the American Diabetes Association was given nearly $4 million from 10 drugmakers, and
  • that Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation I was telling you about received over $3 million.

In fact, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, co-author of a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that 9 in 10 of the top 104 nonprofit advocacy groups are taking money from pharma – and yet, he says, they “wrap themselves in white as if they’re pure.”

But don’t expect to even notice the “soft sell” you’ll be getting at these advocacy websites.

That’s because the kind of propaganda that can result from this sort of “giving” doesn’t hit you in the face like a drug ad. The message is so subtle, in fact, that you might not even know that you’re being converted from a patient into a consumer.

For example, at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, sandwiched between all of the news about how to start a “Team Challenge” marathon or walk to raise money for IBD, there’s the “Doctor Discussion Guide” that’s designed to steer you right into that drug talk with your doc.

Then there are the videos that bash complementary or alternative medicine for treating IBD, saying “by definition, they haven’t been evaluated by any kind of scientific method” (which is plainly not true!).

You can find that kind of clever under-the-radar marketing at plenty of other “independent” nonprofits as well. The amount of money flowing into their coffers is huge – and do you really believe for one minute that funding from pharma doesn’t sway them?

Of course, not every nonprofit is under the thumb of drugmakers. Some groups that refuse pharma’s greenbacks include Public Citizen, Breast Cancer Action, Lymphoma Foundation of America, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, and PharmaWatch Canada, a group that documents adverse reactions to drugs.

All this means is that before you make a donation, take advice, watch a video, or learn ways to treat a condition from one of these organizations, you should first check out the full list Kaiser has compiled, Pre$cription For Power. You can find it at khn.org/patient-advocacy.

“Patient advocacy groups take in millions from drugmakers. Is there a payback?” Emily Kopp, Sydney Lupkin, Elizabeth Lucas, April 6, 2018, KHN, khn.org