A hushed up report and a vanished law

His name is Nicolas About and until January 2011, he was a senator. In the midst of the scandal of AFSSAPS [French equivalent to the FDA] and the laboratories (see cover story), he surreptitiously left his post—quietly resigning as his deputy took over—to find himself in the CSA [Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel – Media High Council]. In 2001, he was one of the authors of the outrageous “About-Picard” law, a controversial discriminatory law which makes it possible to label and condemn citizens based on their membership in specific groups. This law has been highly criticized by international human rights bodies as the spearhead of French religious discrimination. Is there a connection between his leaving the Senate and the revelations on the Mediator affair? (See Psychiatric Drugs Under Watch: Beware!)

These revelations are nothing new. In June 2006, a report was given to the Senate by Marie-Thérèse Hermange and Anne-Marie Payet on behalf of the Commission for Social Affairs. It dealt with the marketing and monitoring conditions of medical drugs. This well-documented report included all the accusations regarding AFSSAPS and the various parties involved on the marketing of medical drugs, as they later appeared in late 2010, in the case of Mediator. But the President of the Commission for Social Affairs was Nicolas About. He stood up for the French system (with the only too well-known consequences). He declared to the Commission : “The system we have implemented is rather efficient. Don’t we risk weighing it down with systematic prior controls?”  In short, not too much control please, this could slow down the sales …

But above all, Nicolas About made a promise: he would propose a law before Fall 2007 to solve the problems mentioned in the report. Everybody then forgot about it, trusting About. This bill will never come into the world and the report was hushed up. What would have happened if the situation had been handled in 2007, and if Senator About had not diverted everybody’s attention with an empty promise?

A brief examination of About’s past reveals that he was director of medical relations of Servier Laboratories between 1981 and 1985, and director of medical communication in Sanofi in 1988. And as of 2009 he was still connected with Servier: for example, he traveled to Brazil at the request of the company to visit a site there.

In 2006, he was president of the Parliamentary Office for Evaluation of Health Politics (OPEPS). He was also a member of the Commission of Accounts of Social Welfare. This means that he was fully involved in the authorization to market drugs and in the evaluation of the reimbursement of medical drugs.* This reimbursement is crucial for laboratories, because it determines if their drug is going to be prescribed or not by practitioners—an alarming clear-cut conflict of interest in this time of pharmaceutical-institutional scandals.

[*Note to editor: The social welfare takes over or pays back to the patient a part of the price of prescription drugs: this can be 100%, 65%, 35% depending on the patient’s status and the category of the drug.]

Opening the door to psychiatrists in our schools

In addition to Georges Fenech and Nicolas About, Dominique Versini, presently Defender of Children, is also a member of Miviludes. Always swift to campaign for the entry of psychiatrists in schools and education centers, and thus to push the overprescription of drugs to students (the laboratories’ desires in this direction are well-known), she is a former executive of Servier, where she was International Communication Director.

[Note to editor: “Defender of Children” is an independent official body in charge of protecting the rights of children in France.]

MP Michel Zumkeller seems to have inundated the government with questions on the supposed problem of “cults ”. He is also quoted by Dominique Versini in her report on ”sanitary, psychological and psychiatric care of minor persons”. What is promoted is a “systemization” of psychiatric care for children in closed education centers, for the greatest benefit to the laboratories in charge of making psychiatric drugs which will  “cure” children, every one of them more dangerous than the last.

He also spoke up for Mediator in March 2010 (question 74657 in the National Assembly, published on March 23, 2010), saying that “for certain diabetics, this association of molecules helped to improve their rate of glucose in the blood, and in regulating their diabetes,” when AFFSAPS finally decided to get it removed from the market.  Why defend Mediator when one is a trained accountant and has no medical competence, unless what is really at stake is the interest of Servier Laboratories?

One cannot but question the motives of these individuals involved in the “anti-cult” fight. Faced with various problems of definition (the word “cult” has no legal definition, so the choice of targeted groups is arbitrary), with a deficiency of “affairs” to justify their existence, Miviludes and the few proponents of the French “anti-cult” movement thought it a good idea to broaden their field of action to justify their existence. But when tackling health as they now do, convergent vested interests come under the spotlight, between those who are spearheading the fight against alternative medicines and the pharmaceutical industry.

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