There has been much publicity recently on the alcohol industry and their sponsorship of sporting events. I won’t rehash the numerous arguments here but suffice to say, most agree that it’s an unethical alliance. An article by Dr John Scally, TCD (and RCSI) lecturer in Ethics and Theology, expressed the view that there are particular ethical issues involved when accepting sponsorship from the alcohol industry. He stated “No drug has caused more damage to Irish families than alcohol. Of course, the Guinness sponsorship of the hurling championship did not force young people to drink alcohol. Yet it would be naive in the extreme to think that executives of alcohol companies would fork out huge sums of money on sports sponsorship unless there was some boost to their sales in return”.
To be honest, I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about – there’s no subterfuge, it’s a self-explanatory and transparent relationship. It seems to me that there are far worse examples of industry-funded events, ones that are far from transparent. What of Pharma-funded awareness programmes, companies that just so happen to have a drug that might (or might not) help the same condition they’re creating awareness for? A recent article in Spain’s El País Newspaper (unwittingly) provides an insight into the unethical subterfuge that can often exist behind ‘awareness’ programmes. The article ‘Three-quarters of at-risk drinkers in Spain unaware of dangers of alcohol’ gives a stark warning to Spanish drinkers who ‘consume worrying amounts of booze’. The article comes on the back of a survey done by Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, which was presented by a panel of experts to a symposium in Madrid last week. Following the study on alcohol consumption, the panel of experts called for legislation to regulate alcohol intake, limit access to alcohol and control alcohol-industry advertising. The El País article ends with the line “Each day, the industry spends a million euros promoting alcoholic drinks. This is not ethical.” Okay so far – many would agree that spending a fortune in promoting alcohol products is an unethical practice.
What the article doesn’t say, is that –
- Lundbeck, the Pharmaceutical company behind the survey, (coincidentally) manufactures a drug for alcohol dependence, Nalmefene.
- Each expert from the panel has many conflicts of interest, including receiving numerous ‘honoraria’ from Lundbeck – all have a vested (and potentially very lucrative) interest in their submissions. Honoraria (plural of honorarium), a confusing word, meaning cash for services rendered.
The Panel of experts –
Julio Bobes, president of Socidrogalcohol, a research organization into alcohol and drug dependence. His conflicts of interest includes receiving honoraria from Lundbeck and being part of the ESENSE 2 Study, a randomized controlled 6-month study of ‘as-needed Nalmefene’, sponsored by Lundbeck.
Antoni Gual, of Barcelona’s Hospital Clinic. His conflicts of interest include- AG has received honoraria, research grants and travel grants from Lundbeck. He wrote numerous Nalmefene papers, including this one he co-wrote with employees of Lundbeck – ‘A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, efficacy study of nalmefene, as-needed use, in patients with alcohol dependence’. Lundbeck was involved in the study design, data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of the data. AG was also on the advisory board of Socidrogalcohol.
José Ángel Arbesú of the Spanish Association of Primary Care Medics. His conflicts of interest include being an advisor to Lundbeck and obtaining Lundbeck funding for research, publications and training. He took part in the following study ‘SEMERGEN positioning for the treatment of alcohol disorders in primary care’ with Julio Bobes and Antoni Gual – a study that recommended Lundbeck’s Nalmefene for reducing alcohol consumption.
Javier Zarco of the Spanish Society for Family and Community Medicine, has consulted and obtained funding for advice, research, publications and training activities from Lundbeck.
In 2014 the college of psychiatrists of Ireland called for a ban on Alcohol advertising and sponsorship; it seems ironic that they do not see the glaringly obvious similarities between the latter and the pharmaceutical industry’s funding of academia and of the very studys that medics rely on for basic education. One wonders why the college would focus on sponsorship by the alcohol industry and ignore their own professions alliance with, and allegiance to, the pharmaceutical industry.
El País Article.