• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bone-Scan Mania

Where did the medical establishment get the idea that women are in such danger of osteoporosis they need regular bone scans? An idea debunked in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine?

In 1994, a year before Fosamax, Merck’s blockbuster bone drug, was approved, Merck began marketing the dangers of osteoporosis “far beyond ailing old ladies.” It hired researcher Jeremy Allen to whip up osteopenia fears to sell bone drugs by planting bone scan machines in medical offices across the country, says National Public Radio. Allen created the faux “Bone Measurement Institute” to establish osteopenia, the “risk of osteoporosis,” as a health epidemic. The scheme worked. By 1999, there were 10,000 bone scan machines in medical offices, said the Associated Press, when there had been only 750 before the bone drugs hit the market. The diagnosis of osteopenia increased seven fold.

Allen’s company also pushed through the Bone Mass Measurement Act which made bone scans Medicare reimbursable. The legislation was written by Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-MD.), who appeared with HHS Secretary Donna Shalala in 1998 at a rally kicking off free bone density screenings to be offered in US 100 cities. Not that she had a opinion. The publicly funded bone scans were so lucrative to drug companies, when their  Medicare-reimbursement became threatened, an article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine article exhorted readers to “Lobby your legislators,” scientific objectivity be damned.

The article, “Managing Osteoporosis: Challenges and Strategies,” says without Medicare reimbursement, patients are “likely to be harmed by limited access to DXA testing [bone scans] because of fewer instruments in operation and greater distances to travel to reach them,” and outpatient facilities will incur “financial losses.”

While osteoporosis is a real disease, osteopenia was never meant to  be “a disease in itself to be treated,” says Dartmouth Medical School professor Anna Tosteson, MD who attended the 1992 World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Rome where the term was first invented. The scientists in the room were simply tired and agreed on a definition of the term because they wanted to adjourn for the night, she told NPR.

The bone density units, called “T scores,” used to define osteopenia are equally as fallacious, wrote Susan Kelleher in the Seattle Times: They had “boundaries so broad they include more than half of all women over 50.”

If bone drugs like Fosamax, Boniva and Actonel (called bisphosphonates) weren’t harmful, the bone scan con would simply be a case of overmedicating women, ripping off  patients, taxpayers and raising insurance costs. But bisphosphonates have been reported to greatly increase the risk of esophageal cancer and osteonecrosis of the jaw–jawbone death. Some dentists will not work on women who take them. Bisphosphonates are also linked to irregular heart beats and intractable pain according to medical journals.

Nor do the bone drugs even prevent fractures–their intended purpose! By suppressing bone remodeling, they are supposed to stop bone loss. But since the bone is not being renewed, it becomes brittle, ossified and fractures. The thigh bones of patients on bisphosphonates have “simply snapped while they were walking or standing,” after “weeks or months of unexplained aching,” reported the New York Times in an article called “Drugs to Build Bones May Weaken Them.” Oops. Medical journals and patients on the web site askapatient have been reporting the fractures for years.

At the 2010 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting in New Orleans, doctors were actually shown the qualitative differences in bisphosphonate treated bone and could see how the bone had degraded over four years of treatment. Half the doctors at one presentation said they’d seen patients with bisphosphonate- compromised bone personally, when asked, reported the Los Angeles Times.

It should be embarrassing to the medical establishment and Medicare administrators that the drug industry and its paid celebrities drove the mania for the bone scans, “osteopenia” and bone drugs.

“When I became menopausal, my doctor recommended I get a bone mineral density test. I had never even heard of it, to be quite honest. I thought, ‘I’m in great health, great shape. I have no symptoms. Why do I need this?’ But I went  ahead and did the test anyway,” Today host Meredith Vieira told USA Today. “To illustrate how ignorant I was when I had the test done, I asked where I could change and the nurse told me I didn’t need to take off my clothes. They did a test on my heel, hip and spine, which only took a matter of five minutes. And it was totally painless. It’s so simple to do.”

And it should be even more embarrassing that the con only surfaced when the biggest bone drug patents are expired so the drug companies don’t even care because the big bucks are behind them.

Martha Rosenberg’s first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, will be published by Prometheus Books next year.

More articles by:

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
Ralph Nader
What and Who Gave Us Trump?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail