Dr. Scott Reuben, a well-respected anesthesiologist from New England, was accused this week of faking data in 21 different medical studies. These studies -- allegedly full of complete malarkey -- supported the effectiveness of nearly half a dozen popular drugs on the market. Much of the bogus research got published in various medical journals between 1996 and 2008.
Dr. Reuben’s work -- or should I say “scam” -- has been influential in the use of these drugs as pain killers for patients recovering from common procedures such as knee and hip replacements.
In a moment, I’ll tell you which drugs Dr. Reuben allegedly lied about. But first, a bit about the “wise and noble” Dr. Reuben…
The Paris Hilton of the medical world
An anesthesiologist at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts and a professor at Tufts University, Dr. Reuben was basically what I like to call a “doctor for hire.” Big Pharma sniffs out these guys in medical school and recruits them to become “public speakers” on behalf of their drugs.
In fact, Reuben took home a hefty paycheck from Pfizer Inc., working as a public speaker for their drugs. Pfizer also funded some of his so-called “research.”
But Reuben’s character flaws -- I believe -- go way beyond greed. Apparently, he even faked research for quite a few drugs he had no monetary connection to whatsoever. That’s what’s got many of us scratching our heads.
If not for the money, why risk it?
Basically, this guy likes to see his name in lights. It’s all about vanity. He fabricates great results for popular drugs, gets the results published everywhere, and voila, he’s an instant “medical celebrity.”
Basically, Reuben reported effective results using at least five different drugs as pain killers. These include Pfizer’s Bextra, Celebrex, and Lyrica. The hospital says he also fudged results for Merck’s Vioxx as well as data supporting the use of Wyeth’s antidepressant Effexor XR as a pain killer.
Reuben promoted using certain drugs “off label,” which means using them to treat conditions other than what they got FDA approval for.
For example, Effexor XR is an antidepressant. But Reuben reported it had positive results as a pain killer too. Celebrex is approved to treat arthritis pain, but not for post-operative pain, as Reuben suggested using it.
Reuben also went so far as to write the FDA, pleading with them not to restrict the use of these painkillers, citing his own positive findings as proof of their “off label” safety and effectiveness.
Fixing 10 years of lies
Reuben’s work over the past 10 years has been very influential in extending use of these drugs to include treating acute post-operative pain. Now, anesthesiologists everywhere are saying a big “whoops!”
In an editorial in the journal Anesthesiology, editor James C. Eisenach stated that the discovery of Reuben’s false data “clearly raise the possibility that we might be heading in wrong directions or toward blind ends in attempts to improve pain therapy." You think? Who’s going to believe that Celebrex treats acute pain…much less helps anyone over the long haul in treating arthritis?
Dr. Steve Shafer, the editor in chief of the medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, which published many of falsified papers, told the New York Times that Reuben “was one of the most prolific investigators in the area of postoperative pain management.” He went on to say that Reuben’s scam “sets back our knowledge in the field tremendously.”
So what’s going to happen now?
Now, of course, the man is a pariah. Even Pfizer is keeping its distance and released this statement:
“It is very disappointing to learn about Dr. Scott Reuben‘s alleged actions. When we decided to support Dr. Reuben‘s research, he worked for a credible academic medical center and appeared to be a reputable investigator."
Unfortunately, I doubt this will have any ramifications in the grand scheme of things. Doctors will still prescribe Celebrex and Effexor XR. They may just think twice about using them for post-operative pain.
The FDA probably won’t blink an eye. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, when this story broke, the FDA wasn’t even aware of the matter.
I believe it is high-time to crack down on “off label” use of prescription drugs. Celebrex and Effexor, I believe, are dangerous enough when used as originally intended. I cringe to think of the ramifications if we continue to “cross-pollinate” our drugs.
A word to the wise, if your doctor suggests using one of these drugs for post-operative pain, make sure you raise a stink. Chances are, he hasn’t been told that the data was faked by good old Dr. Reuben.