Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare
by Peter C Gøtzsche
The author, Peter Gøtzsche, graduated with a Master of Science degree in biology and chemistry in 1974 and as a physician in 1984. He is a specialist in internal medicine; he worked with clinical trials and regulatory affairs in the drug industry and is a co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration.
I mention this just to point out that the information in this book comes from someone who has been inside the industry for a long time. He is not just another troll regurgitating nonsense made up by some other troll.
A few numbers begin to paint the picture. In 2009, Pfizer paid over two billion dollars in a healthcare fraud settlement. GlaxoSmithKline paid three billion in 2011. Johnson & Johnson was fined over one billion dollars in 2012, and he lists several others. Even for large corporations these numbers sound huge to me.
His evaluation of the pharmaceutical industry may seem excessively harsh if you are new to this subject, but the numbers above are just a few early details in an account of many documented offenses. When asked to comment on what he thinks of the industry’s ethics, he jokes that it is difficult to describe what doesn’t exist.
I worked in the defense industry for many years and I find the approach of industry in general to ethics would be funny if the consequences were not so often dangerous or deadly. We had to attend mandatory ethics training which typically occupied about one hour of our time each year. The effectiveness of this is dubious at best. If I just intentionally sold a “health” product that kills people, is a little training going to reform me? Oops, that happened because I missed my ethics training. Sorry. My bad.
The biggest difficulty with discussing drug trials is knowing where to begin. Other book reviews have talked about this so I will try not to be redundant. One of the key problems with placebo controlled trials is that often the placebo doesn’t fool anybody. Most people know drugs have side effects so if you are not experiencing any, you got the placebo. This book recommends correcting that with active placebos, meaning placebos that generate side effects similar to the actual drug.
While poor methodology is epidemic, there is a much larger, more central problem. Pharmaceutical trials are not motivated by any dedication to science or safety. They are marketing. It should be obvious to the FDA and everybody else that the testing of a product by the producer will never be anything but marketing, but the farce continues.
Scientific journals helpfully provide support for this marketing. Lancet editor Richard Horton said “Journals have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry.” The pharmaceutical industry is clearly about money and not health. If you make it half way through this book without getting that point you either work for the industry or perhaps you are availing yourself of a few too many of their products.
But. . . but the FDA will protect us, right? FDA scientist Len Lutwalk said that if the American people knew some of the things that go on in the FDA, they’d never take anything but Bayer aspirin.
Companies like to claim that the efficacy of their product is backed up by the data, but does anyone ever see the data? Russell Katz, director of the neuropharmacology division of the FDA said companies don’t like to publish negative studies. He finds it amusing how so many scientists and physicians make pronouncements on the data without seeing the data. If you really want to see data you usually have to pay. Even then, probably most data are so deeply buried no amount of money in the world will get you a peek at them.
One of the branches of modern medicine that has most unreasonably detached itself from the data, ironically, is psychiatry. Psychiatrist David Healy said “There is probably no other area of medicine in which the academic literature is so at odds with the raw data.” This field has defined so many mental disorders so vaguely that, by these definitions, we are all crazy. I am often tempted to believe that really is the case, but then I get serious. If you have heard the rumors that the federal government wants to screen everybody for mental illness then you know what a bad idea that is. The inmates really are running the asylum.
Speaking of screening, studies have shown health screening has zero effect on overall mortality. It doesn’t work. Well, actually it does work. It brings more patients into the healthcare system. In other words, more money is brought into the system.
A broad range of witnesses—from doctors, to courts, to the FDA, to journal editors, to researchers, to victims—all agree. There is a moral vacuum at the top of the healthcare industry. It isn’t confined to just one industry. The author himself compares it to the tobacco industry. I would expand it to all major industries, high levels of government, the FDA, scientific journals and, it pains me to say, the grassroots. Until the grassroots lets go of its willful ignorance, addiction to convenience and naive acceptance of everything the government and industry say, we will get what we deserve. Until we stop supporting and patronizing corrupt institutions and industries we will get what we deserve.
Gøtzsche offers a number of solutions. He suggests scrapping for-profit drugs, banning trials by industry on its own products and full disclosure of all trial data. He also recommends no marketing of drugs. I’m an old dog who remembers when drug advertising was not legal in the U.S. It was a better, healthier time. These are good ideas but until the moral vacuum is removed no idea will be good enough. More rules will just mean more opportunities to ignore, corrupt or twist the rules. Raising awareness is the first step and this book certainly does that, so the thumb is UP for this book.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2016