Stephen Colbert on Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Pushing Hormone Replacement Therapy

By Christine Cupaiuolo — August 14, 2009

More swooning over Stephen Colbert ensued last night when “Our Bodies Ourselves” popped up on the screen during a feature on women’s health.

The topic? How Wyeth pharmaceutical company hired ghostwriters to write scientific papers that emphasized the benefits of taking hormone replacement therapy and de-emphasized the risks. More than 8,000 lawsuits have been filed against Wyeth by women who claim that the company’s hormone drugs caused them to develop illnesses.

The New York Times broke the news earlier this month. Natasha Singer writes:

That supposed medical consensus benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm to draft the papers, as sales of its hormone drugs, called Premarin and Prempro, soared to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

But the seeming consensus fell apart in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. A later study found that hormones increased the risk of dementia in older patients.

The ghostwritten papers were typically review articles, in which an author weighs a large body of medical research and offers a bottom-line judgment about how to treat a particular ailment. The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The International Journal of Cardiology.

The articles did not disclose Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for the work. Elsevier, the publisher of some of the journals, said it was disturbed by the allegations of ghostwriting and would investigate.

Here’s the video of last night’s “The Colbert Report” segment “Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA.” The women’s health feature starts around 4:50.

Colbert offers this hilarious disclaimer about his credentials: He’s a doctor of fine arts, not a MD — “When I deliver a baby, it comes out through a Georgia O’Keefe painting” (must see). Then he launches into the Wyeth story:

Recently the scientific community was shocked to learn that Wyeth Pharmaceuticals hired ghostwriters to author 26 papers downplaying the risks of taking hormones for menopausal women.

This is shameful. Menopausal women?

What about pre and post menopausal women? We need to fabricate studies to make them take hormones, too, so every woman can enjoy the increased risks of heart disease, stroke and dementia. It’s what connects them as sisters. They can call it “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Hospital Gown.”

The story of these ghostwriters alerted [“Cheating Death” sponsor Prescott Pharmaceuticals] to one group of women that hasn’t yet been offered the benefits of hormone therapy: dead women.

Which is why Prescott pharmaceuticals is proud to present Vaxa-Geist — the first hormone replacement therapy for lady ghosts.

Why do you think they’re haunting us? They’re moody.

This hormone works great for ghosts of all ages, from little girl ghosts to old librarian ghosts to 3,000-year-old biblical ghosts. Talk about a hot flash.

Side effects of Vaxa-Geist may include hair blood, internal coolating and barry manilobes.

That’s it for cheating death …

OK, so maybe a little forced for Colbert. But still. It’s very cool to see the preeminent political satirist take on the exploitative manipulation of women’s health — and the fact he shows “Our Bodies Ourselves” while doing it makes me giddy.

3 responses to “Stephen Colbert on Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Pushing Hormone Replacement Therapy”

  1. I love it that Colbert puts Our Bodies front and center. In his own crazy satire, Our Bodies stands for the truth against the truthiness.

    I know what you mean by his commentary being “forced” a bit here, though. He’s not really in his persona. This is more Swiftian satire — a la “Modest Proposal” — rather than Colbert’s more subtle breakdown of conservative ideology.

  2. Interesting. Again it proves that messing around with this and etc is bad in the long run. Please don’t even get me started on the rest of this and etc.

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