Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Crimes of the Drug Industry

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/02/04

By which I mean the Prescription Drug Industry, not the illegal drugs business.

Here are some of the main evils perpetrated by the mainstream pharmaceutical industry (“Big Pharma”):
1. Many new drugs are not effective — they don’t do what they’re claimed to do.
2. Many new drugs are not safe. Their “side” effects can outweigh any possible benefits.
3. Many new drugs are not as good as, but are more expensive than the ones they replace.
4. New drugs are approved without proper assessment of the evidence. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is paid by the drug manufacturers for the costs of approval, which introduces a conflict of interest. FDA administrators have sometimes overruled their technical staff to approve a drug found wanting on the evidence.
5. Clinical trials are biased in favor of finding drugs apparently safe and effective even when they may be neither.
6. The industry pays for clinical trials and controls the data, some or all of which are then withheld from regulators and researchers. Negative results are not divulged.
7. PR spin by the drug industry is dishonest. Twice as much is spent on marketing than on drug development.
8. The drug industry buys influence with (i.e. bribes) doctors and hospital administrators under the guise of consultantships, sponsored research, lecture fees, medical education.
9. The drug industry buys influence with (bribes) medical journals by paying large sums for advertisements and by buying reprints of favorable articles for enormous sums, as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars for reprints of a single article which is then distributed to physicians by sales people.
10. The drug industry uses incessant propaganda to persuade the public that perfectly natural, normal conditions are really illnesses that can be vanquished by medication; e.g. seasonal affective disorder, erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, female sexual dysphoria, etc., etc.

None of this is secret. Many books and articles by industry insiders and medical professionals give chapter and verse with innumerable examples and illustrations about all this — see my sample bibliography. Most recent and perhaps most trenchant is Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime (Radcliffe, 2013) by Peter Gøtzsche.

Gøtzsche charges Big Pharma with literally criminal behavior, and makes a good case, in particular by comparing Big Pharma to Big Tobacco, which hid and denied for decades its knowledge of the dangers of smoking and the addictiveness of cigarettes; top executives perjured themselves.
But Gøtzsche acknowledges that most of the people who work in Big Pharma are not being deliberately dishonest, they’re just doing their jobs and not asking difficult questions. The whole system is dysfunctional, and blame for that is very widely shared. For example, government regulators and justice departments allow companies to pay fines without acknowledging guilt and without criminal charges being laid against the responsible individuals, so that companies regard the fines as a small part of the costs of doing business and they continue their illegal tactics, for instance using indirect means to lobby physicians to prescribe drugs “off label”.
Deliberately intended or not, the result has been a huge number of deaths from approval of unsafe drugs that offered no benefit over existing ones and from inappropriate use of prescription drugs:

In the United States and Europe,
drugs are the third leading cause of death
after heart disease and cancer
(Gøtzsche, p. 1)

One contributing factor is the misnomer “side effect”. As Frank Ofner, MD, used to say:

“Side” effects are MAIN effects that doctors don’t want to talk about.

As a result, many people are now being made ill, sometimes to the point of death, from so-called “side” effects of prescription drugs whose potential benefits have never been soundly established, for example, statins:
Cholesterol is good for you
 STATINS are VERY BAD for you, especially FOR YOUR MUSCLES
Statins weaken muscles by design
Statins are very bad also for your brain

Society’s addiction to prescription drugs may stem ultimately from the mistaken notion that because drugs have been effective against infectious diseases, therefore they can be effective against other ailments including the natural consequences of aging.

The dangers of prescription drugs and the criminal or near-criminal actions of Big Pharma are becoming ever more widely known, but the enormous political will required to do something about it remains lacking. In the meantime, not only technical books describe the horrors but also fiction and films. Recently I came across the French movie, “The New Protocol” (2008; original title “Le nouveau protocole”). It features a man investigating his son’s death who learns some horrific truths about Big Pharma, including the use of Africa as a venue for testing a new vaccine. Among the highlights for me was a recalling of the Tuskegee syphilis “trial”, for which President Clinton apologized 45 years later, and repetition of which is avoided in the First World by holding clinical trials in the Third World, principally Africa. The film points out that Big Pharma is now Capitalism’s biggest money-maker. It persuades us that we are all ill and in need of medication — for sleep disorder, take a pill. For creeping baldness, for weight gain, there are pills to take. Pills can be a miracle cure for all our ills.
Depressed? There are pills against that.
Afraid of aging? Estrogen for her, testosterone for him.
Too cheerful? Let’s call it “Gaiety Disorder”.
Rich but nevertheless sad? “Paradise Syndrome”, a bankable disease, administer serotonin to the idle rich.

Perhaps the only defense against such Big Pharma-induced social insanity is laughter, and a personal resolve not to take any prescription drug without doing personal research into its supposed benefits and its down-played toxic “side” effects.


5 Responses to “Crimes of the Drug Industry”

  1. “…drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer…”

    And then again most cancer and heart deaths are caused by drugs (chemo, vioxx…) , so they might be the leading cause after taking everything into account.


    • Henry Bauer said

      I haven’t yet located Gøtzsche’s source or calculating for this, so I can’t be positively sure, but I would think that heart deaths caused by drugs would be included in the drug deaths category and NOT the overall heart death category.
      In any case, I doubt that “most” heart or cancer deaths could be caused by drugs — we’re not immortal, and among possible causes of NATURAL death, cancer and heart diseases seem plausible as leading causes.
      I don’t recall data on drug-caused cancer.


      • Certainly we’re not immortal but overdiagnosis of cancer as a business model right imples ovrtreatment with radiation abd cancer drugs, which are quite incompatible with life. I can tell you that in the case of breast “cancer” for example, Cochrane Research has estimated the ratio of misdiagnosis and overtreatment to real cancers ir 10:1. Just to get an idea of what could be happening.


        This means that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will have her life prolonged. In addition, 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and will be treated unnecessarily. Furthermore, more than 200 women will experience important psychological distress for many months because of false positive findings.

        It is thus not clear whether screening does more good than harm.

        Similar if not worse is the overdiagnosis/overtreatment situation with prostate “cancer” diagnosed for decades via surrogate markers such as PSA hormone: The impact of PSA screening on prostate cancer mortality and overdiagnosis of prostate cancer in the United States.

        Iatrogeny as leading cause of death in the “civilized” world might not be so far fetched as it would seem. We take just too many things fro granted.


      • Henry Bauer said

        I agree. My quibble was only about drugs causing cancer. There is certainly over-diagnosis and over-treatment.


  2. KC Blair said

    From KC Blair:
    But Gøtzsche acknowledges that most of the people who work in Big Pharma are not being deliberately dishonest, they’re just doing their jobs and not asking difficult questions.”
    Personally, I found most insiders with whom I talked know, feel guilty, want to talk about it and warn outsiders not to take the drugs they are making and marketing. Many workers in medical product factories and headquarters up and down the hierarchies were aware, asking questions and leaving their jobs when they could not make a difference. One-on-one behind closed doors insiders would tell me, an outside supplier, that in executive meetings lower executives would ask higher executives what they could do to help the consumers, whom trusting their company, people and brands, were maiming and killing with their invasive medical and surgical treatments. A few workers would even quit their jobs before they could qualify for their options and retirement, rather than to continue contributing to the harm. Most admitted staying because their families had gotten used to their large paychecks. I could not believe fellow executives would knowingly harm let alone kill their customers. I had always defended them until I personally learned the truth.
    Crimes of the prescription drug industry continue, worldwide. It continues to do more harm than good.


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