The AMA Does It Again

Nov. 19, 2001

The AMA Does It Again

Statement by Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.
Director, Public Citizen?s Health Research Group

The American Medical Association (AMA) has added another chapter to the seemingly endless succession of extremely poor, dangerous choices for executive vice president of the organization. The announcement today that the new AMA chief executive, Dr. Michael Maves, is the former president of CHPA (Consumer Healthcare Products Association), the trade association representing the herbal, dietary supplement and over-the-counter drug (OTC) industries (presumably with the approval of the AMA?s Board of Trustees), threatens to bring this troubled and dying organization from the early part of the 21st century back to the 19th century. In that earlier era, before medicines had to be proven safe and effective before being sold, patent medicines, some of which were referred to as snake oils, ruled the roost.

To the extent that CHPA now represents the herbal/dietary supplement drug companies, and to the extent that a large proportion of these products lack evidence of safety and efficacy, this appears to be another deadly embrace for the AMA.

Even in the realm of over-the-counter drugs, CHPA funded and signed off on the design of a Yale study on the decongestant and weight reduction drug, PPA (phenylpropanolamine). But when the study showed a significant increase in hemorrhagic strokes in people using products containing the drug, CHPA — under the leadership of Dr. Maves — denounced the study. In the 1980s, the predecessor to CHPA, the Non-Prescription Drug Manufacturers Association, was instrumental in delaying the addition of warning labels on aspirin concerning the increased risk of Reye?s Syndrome in children with flu or chicken pox who took aspirin. As a result of the delay, hundreds more children died or sustained brain damage.

I would urge all physicians who still cling to their AMA membership ? despite its embrace of the Sunbeam scandal (an uncritical proposed endorsement of medical products under the leadership of Dr. John Seward), the real estate scandal (under the leadership of Dr. James Sammons) and the recent predictably poor leadership of Dr. Ratcliffe Anderson ? to resign from this dying organization, which once represented more than two-thirds of American doctors but soon will represent less than one-third. The hundreds of dollars of patients? money, which goes to pay for the annual dues, could be better spent. Subscriptions to excellent medical journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association are available to non-members as well as members.

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