Steffanie Rivers

*The next time you use the restroom at the home of a family member or friend take a look in the medicine cabinet.

Statistics show that prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

That level of abuse coupled with the drug side effects have become one of the leading causes of death in the United States since 2002.

Because prescription drugs are just that, prescribed by a medical professional, most people underestimate their strength and addictive nature. But the next time your doctor sends you home with free drug samples or a handful of prescriptions to fill you should ask if they have a vested interest in the products they are pushing.

Pfizer Inc. recently admitted it paid about 4,500 doctors and hospitals $35 million during the second half of 2009 to study how the company’s medicines work and to promote the treatments.

Federal prosecutors recently filed a complaint against Johnson & Johnson, charging that it paid tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks to a major national pharmacy chain serving nursing homes. Its pharmacists reviewed the medical charts of nursing home patients and recommended drugs to doctors who followed their recommendations 80% of the time.

GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Merck and Cephalon drug companies paid out $3.4 million to doctors in north Texas alone in 2009, according to their records.

These and other drug company payouts have become so enormous that Congress has passed the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. The bill, which takes effect in 2013, will require disclosure of any drug company payment to doctors of more than $25, whether the payment was for food, travel, entertainment, gifts, consulting fees or any other purpose.

While most Fortune 500 companies have had their profits decline over the past ten years, the top U.S. drug makers have increased their profits by more than 30% thanks in part to their covert partnerships with some medical professionals.

When doctors enter into these covert partnerships for pay their judgement can be clouded by the money they receive. And their skewed judgement oftentimes is passed off to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as objective test results that the FDA has said they tend not to question due to lack of man power.

Although doctors have the right to supplement their income the same as anyone else, they should be required to disclose their connection to the drug companies to their patients. That way patients won’t mistake their doctors’ drug preference for objective medical advice. These days the Hippocratic Oath comes with a price and you could pay for it with your health.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanieri