CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. A GOLDEN STANDARD TO GENERALIZE IN ADDICTION RESEARCH
Version of Record online: 11 JAN 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Society for the Study of Addiction
Volume 105, Issue 2, pages 199–200, February 2010
How to Cite
GUAL, A. (2010), CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. A GOLDEN STANDARD TO GENERALIZE IN ADDICTION RESEARCH. Addiction, 105: 199–200. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02727.x
- Issue online: 11 JAN 2010
- Version of Record online: 11 JAN 2010
- Alcohol industry;
- conflict of interest;
- public health
It is difficult to disagree with Stenius & Babor . The points they make are clear, consistent, logical and full of common sense. Also, anyone who has been in the field long enough to have some white hairs on his head (and I have plenty of those) has at some time experienced situations such as those described by the authors. As well, evidence on the hidden strategies of the alcohol industry against public health advocates continues to grow .
My first thought was to say ‘no’ to the invitation to comment on the paper, simply because I could not think of anything to add; but on the same day I received a special issue of an indexed journal, with the intriguing title ‘Coffee and Health’. The monograph presents six studies suggesting beneficial effects of caffeine in liver , cancer , diabetes mellitus , Parkinson's disease , exercise performance  and Alzheimer's disease . As most readers may have already guessed, the general conclusions of the papers are ‘more studies are needed’. Only two of the six authors state conflicts of interest and the special issue was sponsored by the ‘Centro de Información Café y Salud’ (Information Centre for Coffee and Health).
The public health impact of caffeine use is not comparable to alcohol and tobacco but, to me, this raises the question of whether we should apply a different standard to the alcohol industry, or we should use the standards proposed by Stenius & Babor as golden standards to be applied not only to the alcohol industry but to all types of research where any kind of commercial interest can be foreseen.
It is true that some universities and most government agencies can easily avoid being funded by the alcohol industry, but it is also true that in many regions of the world fundraising for research is usually a big challenge. Moreover, the alcohol industry can always claim they have the right to fund and conduct scientific research on the possible health benefits of their products, and this is a right that cannot be disclosed.
In the real world I would rather advocate for strict and transparent control measures to ensure that any funding from the alcohol industry is scrutinized scientifically in order to avoid any bias that may influence the results of the research. Needless to say that, in some key institutions (and scientific journals  are a good example), prohibition of any funding that might decrease its credibility should be the rule.
The next question, then, is whether those measures should be specific for the alcohol industry or should be applied whenever commercial interests are at play. I would certainly argue in favour of using the standards we are proposing for the alcohol and tobacco industry as golden standards to deal with any potential conflict with commercial interests. In recent years, the scientific community has become aware of those conflicts , and the advances experienced concerning the alcohol industry should definitely have a beneficial impact in relevant areas in addiction research, mainly those related to the pharmaceutical industry.
In the last 20 years the pharmaceutical industry has increased its investment in alcohol research considerably, and this has resulted in clear beneficial effects in the field. Nevertheless, the results with most of the drugs tested are not straightforward, and some negative studies have been published focusing on the positive results obtained in subsamples . I am sure that if the ‘guiding principles’ proposed by Stenius & Babor were also applied to the pharmaceutical industry, it would benefit science.
Finally, I would like to mention a related topic: the use made by the alcohol industry of any research that favours their interests and ‘allows’ them to present their drinks as ‘healthy products’. Mass media regularly publish biased articles which promote ‘sensible’ use of alcoholic drinks under a ‘healthy medical umbrella’. This type of news is based quite often on biased research, but we should not forget that their impact at a population level is due to the lack of control on the marketing strategies of the alcohol industry.
Declaration of interest
A. Gual has received funding for research in ongoing clinical trials from Bayer and Lundbeck.
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