Bad Pharma – Ben Goldacre

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(Read 7 December – 30 December 2015)

I read this book after hearing a Ben Goldacre Ted talk on the same subject. His genuine fear whilst talking about the pharmaceutical and medical industry inspired me to read his book and find out more. The book succeeded in terrifying me about all medicines that are out there and how the whole industry is organised and run.

The first worrying thing is that trial results are altered in such a way as to guarantee the appearance that the new drug is successful.  When results appear to be unflattering the companies simply choose not to publish them. This is quite clearly a terrifying prospect. Selective bias occurs in various facets of daily life, but when it is being utilised in an industry which is there to save people’s lives, it becomes truly frightening.

Another issue with drug trials is that they only have to prove that the drugs they are testing are better than a sugar tablet or placebo.  This means that the market is saturated with drugs that may only be marginally better than taking nothing.  It makes a lot more sense that a drug should only be approved if it is better than the current best drug on the market.

What is worrying about all this is that doctors learn about what drugs to prescribe to people from these drug trials.  This means that doctors are globally prescribing patients drugs on what they believe to be sound evidence.  This is a truly saddening situation, as doctors are truly to their best knowledge and research attempting to save patient’s lives.

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions every year marketing their drugs. This marketing is typically directed towards doctors, who in return are more likely to prescribe their drugs.  This results in the drugs being far more expensive than they should be.  In fact the cost of manufacturing the drugs are often a tenth of the final selling price. The rest of the cost is used to pay for the company’s marketing.

Finally doctors spend years training before they practice. However after these years of education and training they are largely left to their own devices. They don’t receive any formal education afterwards.  The only further learning that occurs is done by themselves or by attending educational seminars.  The distressing thing is that these educational seminars are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies! Obviously this results in the specific company’s drugs gaining most attention and coverage.

I would strongly recommend this book to my readers. At one point in most of our lives we probably have been prescribed some sort of medicine by a doctor. And unwittingly these doctors may well have prescribed us with a drug that wasn’t as effective as we or they believed.  Whats more, the drug may have actually caused more harm than good. This book does a wonderful job of explaining what is wrong within the whole industry and how dangerous the whole situation is.  The book reads like a piece of fiction because the whole scenario seems so ridiculous, but unfortunately it is worryingly true. This book should be recommended reading because most of us (including myself previous to reading this) believe that when we pop a pill or tablet of medicine, we trust that it will make us feel better and not be ineffective or worse harmful.  At the very least this book will make you think twice before taking any medicine again.