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Bad pharma (Book review)

“$600bn business rife with corruption and greed”

‘Bad pharma’, by Ben Goldacre. Pp 364. Price £13.99. London: Fourth Estate; 2012. ISBN 978 0 007 350742

Ben Goldacre is a doctor who broadcasts and writes about unreliable scientific claims made by drug companies, academics, journalists, governments, quacks and spin doctors. In this book he attacks all of these and more, but is particularly concerned by the global pharmaceutical industry, which he says is a “$600bn business rife with corruption and greed”.

‘Bad pharma’ is a paperback of the popular-science genre. It is light and sometimes humorous in tone but intends to shock its target readers. Pharmacists may be familiar with many of Goldacre’s examples, but they do illustrate how far the pharmaceutical industry’s influence reaches into the practice of medicine, and how that influence has been used by some companies to put profit ahead of patient welfare.

Goldacre’s central theme is that medicine is broken and patients are being harmed. He claims that poorly designed drug trials and hidden or manipulated analyses distort the market. He says that some prescribers, academics, journalists, universities, politicians and others collaborate, often covertly, to promote products. And he blames weak and secretive regulators for failing to disclose data that might protect patients from those unscrupulous companies because of commercial considerations.

Pharmacists are unlikely to be shocked by Goldacre’s exposé of the pharmaceutical industry since much of his evidence has been reported in the pharmaceutical and mainstream press in the past. However, they should read this book and be disgusted by the way this state of affairs has been allowed to continue. Goldacre believes we practise evidence-based medicine without all the evidence and what data we do have is often skewed in favour of whoever gave it to us. His remedy is to have larger, simpler and better regulated drug trials, prompt reporting of all results and the clear dissemination of unbiased evidence so that prescribers can ensure their patients have the best treatment.

The pharmaceutical industry and the regulators claim these issues are being tackled but Goldacre suggests otherwise. He compares broken medicine with the banking crisis: “Nobody took responsibility, nobody was in control, but everybody knew something was wrong.”

Roger Poole is a retired community pharmacist

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11110889

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