Validity of Fibromyalgia Questioned in NYT Article

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • An article entitled “Drug Approved. Is Disease Real?” by Alex Berenson appeared on the front page of the January 14, 2008 issue of The New York Times and has stirred up a firestorm in the FM community.  As you might guess from the title, the article is less than favorable on the subject of fibromyalgia.  In a nutshell, it accuses pharmaceutical companies of trying to make a fortune by developing drugs to treat fibromyalgia, an illness that, as Berenson presents it, is probably not even real.

    While there is a thinly veiled attempt to give the appearance of presenting both sides of the issue, the article is heavily weighted in favor of those who think FM is simply a “response to stress, depression, and economic and social anxiety.”  Not surprisingly, the two physicians he quotes who do not believe FM is a real illness are Dr. Frederick Wolfe and Dr. George Ehrlich.  Anytime the validity of FM is questioned, these two gentlemen can be found in the forefront.  I’m not sure why, but both men seem to have made the debunking of fibromyalgia part of their life’s mission.  
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    Even when trying to appear fair by quoting two noted leaders in fibromyalgia research and advocacy – Dr. Daniel Clauw and Lynne Matallana, president of the National Fibromyalgia Association – Berenson couches their quotes with innuendo, neglecting to tell the whole story.  He also conveniently neglects to mention the incredible advances made in FM research that prove people with fibromyalgia have very real physical abnormalities.   

    Addressing these omissions in her response to The New York Times article, Matallana said, “…the article presents outdated opinions and neglects to discuss the research advances of the last decade and instead focuses on the opinions of a few medical outsiders who still do not believe in the legitimacy of fibromyalgia. By omitting the groundbreaking research and scientific evidence gained over the past 20 years by institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, the article gives a slanted and unrealistic perspective.”
    This article makes me both angry and sad.  Angry that such a poorly researched and obviously biased article would be published to begin with.  Angry (but not surprised) that newspapers and media across the country are reprinting the article without questioning its accuracy. And angry that Berenson is making such a concerted effort to try and turn the calendar back 20 years when it comes to the public’s view of FM.  Sad that so much time and energy is spent trying to prove that suffering people are not really sick rather than trying to find ways to help relieve their suffering.  And sad that some physicians, whose life work is supposed to be about helping people, expend so much effort hurting them.  It’s easy to criticize; not so easy to find real answers.  It’s time to stop blaming the patient and start being part of the solution. 
Published On: January 15, 2008