Take a look behind most large 'patient groups' or illness support groups and you'll find the benevolent hand of a drug company. It may be funding the group with a small donation, or perhaps it helped develop the website - all small change to the drug company, but it's a vital injection of funds for the group, and it's enough to buy their support.
Just ask one of these large groups about alternative remedies or non-drug therapies, and you'll quickly discover just how loyal they can be to their benefactor. And their approach adds credibility to the drugs approach (even though few in the media seem to realize it is a stance that has been bought).
This age-old strategy has finally come to the attention of the American group for senior citizens, AARP, which has 35 million members aged over 50. AARP has discovered that three rival groups, the United Seniors Association, the Seniors Coalition and the 60-Plus Association, have all received substantial drug company funding in the last few years.
While UK patient groups may be thankful for a donation of a few thousand pounds, their American counterparts have enjoyed extraordinary largesse from the drug companies, including the funding of a multimillion-dollar TV advertising campaign. Mind you, much of the advert was devoted to extolling the virtues of the drugs industry.
As an AARP spokesman said: 'When the pharmaceutical industry speaks these days, many Americans may not be able to recognize its voice. That's because the industry often uses 'front groups' that work to advance its agenda under the veil of other interests.'
When asked to comment about the allegations, a spokesman for the American drugs industry was nonplussed. 'I don't see a problem here,' he said.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2003; 326: 351).