WDDTY – They say they have a ‘qualified researcher’; but do they really?

Discussions on WDDTY’s Facebook page are apparently meant to be a fair and open place for debate.  However I, as have others, have found ourselves banned from commenting because of debasing and abusive comments.  In my case this is simply not true.  My ban came in response to a claim made by WDDTY that they have a qualified researcher who checks all their references and statistics before they publish.  I posted on their Facebook that if they did indeed have a researcher, why was there so many things wrong in their Angelina Jolie piece – an article that I found to be riddled with referencing errors.  Their retort was to ban me and delete my comments – an action some people would take this as admission of guilt.

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In the midst of all the Facebook patter I noticed WDDTY made a statement about how ‘prescribed drugs are now one of the biggest killers in the west’.  I’d heard similar claims from WDDTY before and remembered an article that they had published recently claiming that medicine is one of the biggest killers in the US.  The article appeared in the September 2013 issue and is solely based on the National Vital Statistics Report (2012, vol. 61).  They quote some pretty incredulous numbers in the article – but as they have a ‘qualified researcher’ on board I thought “surely they must be right”.  I mean anyone publishing health information would want to make sure that they get their figures right – especially when they want to make claims like medicine kills more than smoking, wouldn’t they?

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WRONG.  In fact they have made such a mess of the NVS report I can’t believe for a second that anyone with half a brain even looked at it.  Let me begin:

The first point worth noting is that volume 61 of the NVS report contains 9 sections.  I am going to assume (because WDDTY don’t specify) that the one they got data from was number 6 – Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011.  The reason for this is because they say:

“America’s DOH and Human Services classifies all deaths in the US every year: in 2011 – the most recent year available…”

This is true – great job ‘qualified researcher’.

Next they say there were a total of 2.53 million deaths in the US in 2011.  It’s actually 2.51 (to 2 d.p.) but I’ll cut them some slack.

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They say that the biggest killer was heart disease (596,339 deaths), followed by cancer (575,313 deaths).  Also true.  Wow this person is doing a great job so far…

This is where it gets good (or bad).  They say that:

“Adverse drug reactions account for 106,000 deaths”

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This number has been plucked straight out of the air.  Adverse (medical) drug reactions are classified under the NVS codes Y40-Y59.  Within the NVS report for 2011 these codes are grouped under ‘Complications of medical and surgical care’ along with codes Y60-84 and Y88.  Deaths under this category total 2,580 – not 106,000.  In fact, totalling all adverse drug reaction (Y40-59) from 1999-2006, only accounts for 2341 deaths in an 8 year period.

They also claim that 98,000 people are killed by doctors.  This is clearly wrong because these deaths also fit in the 2,580 accounted for under ‘complications of medical and surgical care’.

Their conclusion then is to add 106,000 and 98,000 to get a total of 204,000 deaths by adverse drug reaction or medical error – making it the third biggest killer in the US (around 8% of total deaths) after heart disease and cancer.  In fact they account for 2,580 deaths or 0.1% of total deaths.

So by making up numbers, the ‘researcher’ at WDDTY has over-stated the number of deaths by a (approx.) whopping 100 times.  Maybe WDDTY will be good enough to explain where these numbers have come from because as far as I can tell they have been manufactured to propagate the idea that medicine and pharma are out to get everyone.

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6 thoughts on “WDDTY – They say they have a ‘qualified researcher’; but do they really?

  1. Pingback: WDDTY: My Master List | Josephine Jones

  2. The “98,000 people are killed by doctors” claim seems to lead back to a 1999 study mentioned in the BMJ (“BMJ. 1999 December 11; 319(7224): 1519.” by Fred Charatan) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1117251/

    An expert panel from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, found that medical errors kill from 44000 to 98000 Americans each year. The chairman of the 19 member panel, William C Robinson, president of the W K Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, a private, grant making body, said, “These stunningly high rates of medical errors—resulting in deaths, permanent disability, and unnecessary suffering—are simply unacceptable in a medical system that promises first to ‘do no harm.’ …”

    The “Adverse drug reactions account for 106,000 deaths” claim seems to refer to a 1998 paper from the University of Toronto Department of Zoology (“JAMA. 1998 Apr 15;279(15):1200-5.” ‘Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies.’ – Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN.) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9555760

    The overall incidence of serious ADRs was 6.7% (95% confidence interval [CI], 5.2%-8.2%) and of fatal ADRs was 0.32% (95% CI, 0.23%-0.41%) of hospitalized patients. We estimated that in 1994 overall 2216000 (1721000-2711000) hospitalized patients had serious ADRs and 106000 (76000-137000) had fatal ADRs, making these reactions between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death. …

    These are both single papers some time ago and I have no idea how accurate they were at the time, or how accurate their findings would remain today. If their numbers are accurate today, it seems to me there is likely to be significant overlap between people counted as dying from medical errors and people counted as dying from serious adverse drug reactions, so simply adding the two figures together would not be a good way of arriving at a total number of deaths attributable to medical treatments.

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