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Book review

Caustic criticism for big business in healthcare

‘Deadly medicines and organised crime: how big pharma has corrupted healthcare’ by Peter C. Gøtzsche.

When I first saw the title of this book I thought it might be yet another attempt to discredit orthodox medicine and promote some form of healthcare quackery. But I could not have been more wrong. The author is an eminent medical researcher and a co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, the international standard-bearer for evidence-based medicine. He knows his subject, and his opinions carry weight.

Peter Gøtzsche’s well researched book gives blunt accounts of cases in which major drug companies have incurred huge fines or have been forced to make large out-of-court settlements for corrupt behaviour such as massaging clinical trial statistics or making false marketing claims. It also castigates those in the industry’s pay who support such fraud — “drug whores”, who include physicians, academics, professional bodies, patient organisations, university departments, regulators, journalists and politicians.

An interesting aspect of the book is the way it questions the value of widely accepted clinical trials, pointing out that many modern drugs have become established on the basis of research findings that are actually difficult to justify.

I highly recommend this thought-provoking book. But it has its flaws. My first concern is that its provocative title is a marketing ploy no different from those that the book denigrates. Organised crime? There may be corrupt players within “big pharma”, but there is no evidence to equate the whole industry with the mob.

The author also fails to acknowledge adequately that corporate crime is not specific to pharmaceuticals. Similar corruption is rife in the tobacco and energy industries and throughout the world of financial services. And within the healthcare arena, any false claims made by pharmaceutical companies are probably trivial compared with those made by “big herba” and other pedlars of unproved alternative therapies and unnecessary health supplements. Sadly, some of these greedy hucksters are already exploiting Peter Gøtzsche’s book to promote their bogus and potentially perilous products.

 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20065536

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