I acquired Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma a while back, but I only really started reading it after finishing The Constant Gardener. I wanted to find out about the real crimes of the pharmaceutical industry and what was being done to stop them.
Goldacre is a British doctor, author (his previous book, Bad Science was something of a bestseller) and campaigner. He is the founder of a website called „Alltrials.com” calling for more transparency in medical trials.
Medical trials are one of the main subjects of Bad Pharma. They form the core of scientific research, and yet they can be surprisingly easy to rig. This is a massive problem.
Why? Imagine you’re a patient who agrees to participate in a medical trial. You expect that the results of the trial will be used to further develop our understanding of a certain illness. But what often happens is that the pharmaceutical company which runs the trial is not pleased with the result and they simply do not publish it. Whatever you have suffered for the purpose of the trial is entirely a waste of everyone’s time.
But it gets worse. Pharmaceutical companies are determined to have a positive result of their trial and often do their best to secure it. Say they are obliged to compare their drug with the best available treatment. So to improve their result they compare the new drug to the best available treatment in a tiny dose that would never usually prescribe. Predictably, it doesn’t work as well as the new drug they’re testing. Hurray for the pharmaceutical company. Meanwhile, the patients suffer or die completely unnecessarily.
The pharmaceutical companies’ marketing budget is obscene. In the US sales reps can buy the prescription records from pharmacies to find out which doctor is prescribing which medication. Courses that are ostensibly “further education” for medical staff are often just used as a marketing opportunity for a particular drug.
And the list of the pharmaceutical industry’s abuses goes on… statistics are cleverly manipulated, doctors “author” papers that are entirely ghostwritten by pharmaceutical companies, and everyday problems become medicalized in TV adverts.
Goldacre’s astonishment and downright anger at the situation are visible.
Because drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies do save people.
The problem is that with the current regulations, it is incredibly difficult for any well-intentioned medical practitioner to find out which drug will work best for their patients. So bad practice in pharmaceutical companies harms not just the people involved in the trials (although that should be quite enough, to be honest), but it also creates ignorance in the medical world which can cost lives. Think about how pharmaceutical companies used marketing to portray opioid drugs as not particularly addictive…
This is an often heartbreaking book with a very convincing argument. I dare you to read it and not be tempted to join the alltrials.com campaign.