Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scott Reuben and the poison in medicine's well

In a stunning piece of timing after yesterday's epiphany, this crossed my wire today:

"A Medical Madoff: Anesthesiologist Faked Data in 21 Studies" - Scientific American

"Beginning in 2000, Reuben, in his now-discredited research, attempted to convince orthopedic surgeons to shift from the first generation of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to the newer, proprietary COX2 inhibitors, such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and Pfizer's Bextra (valdecoxib). He claimed that using such drugs in combination with the Pfizer anticonvulsant Neurontin (gabapentin), and later Lyrica (pregabalin), prior to and during surgery could be effective in decreasing postoperative pain and reduce the use of addictive painkillers, such as morphine, during recovery. A 2007 editorial in Anesthesia & Analgesia stated that Reuben had been at the "forefront of redesigning pain management protocols" through his "carefully planned" and "meticulously documented" studies."

More from the New York Times:
"Doctor’s Pain Studies Were Fabricated, Hospital Says"

And the Injury Board:
"The Fake Clinical Trials of Dr. Scott Reuben"

It's hard to convey the total horror of the event described here. This physician scientist, who ran the pain clinic at one of my old hospitals, published research that became the cornerstone of pain treatment in the US and abroad. After 13 years of successful, peer-review-published, desperately important work, he recently admitted the following:

• Not one single patient was ever enrolled in key studies.
• There was absolutely no basis for the numbers he cited; he invented them.
• He was paid a great deal of money to come up with certain results, and that is exactly what he did.

The most influential part of his career was a fraud.

The countless studies founded on his widely-publicized fictions are therefore meaningless, under the rules of scientific evidence itself.

The degree to which we depend on medical science to save us when we really need it -- our helplessness at our times of greatest need -- require us to have some faith in the processes that deliver our care. This isn't just another massive fraud, it's a devastating blow to the cornerstone of healing in the modern age. How can educated patients ever continue to believe that our doctors have anything of value to offer us? How can honest physicians bear to let this situation exist?

He could not have chosen a worse field to work in. In medicine, sooner or later, every field has to rely on pain medicine, and he has fouled the well from which the widest number of patients must drink. Scientific American got it wrong: Madoff was a piker, next to this.

The science of pain control and pain management has depended heavily on garbage cooked by a liar, served by intellectual catamites and eaten by the brainwashed. From there, it was inserted into me and mine, who were assured that this was the best that medical science had to offer.

Too bad there was no actual medical science involved.

...I apologize for the strong language. Can you think of more precise and telling terms to use instead? I'd be happy to change them, if anyone can come up with something better.

There are administrative questions such as, whatever happened to peer-review? Who the hell was looking at his notebooks and other physical evidence of scientific work? Why did it take 13 years for a "routine check" at Baystate to break his cover? What on earth were the most important science editors in the world thinking? How many of them are still employed -- and why?

Those aren't trivial, but they are not what looms largest in my mind. I think of Debbie, and me these past few years, and other friends I can't name whose lives have been hopelessly distorted and sometimes horribly lost ... because modern pain research has been built on one psychopath's lies, which were funded and supported by a vast network of fellow liars, colluders, and the willfully blind.

It has sometimes occurred to me that the wrong people get sick.

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