Bad pharma

by jonl

According to Cory Doctorow at bOING bOING, physicians often prescribe drugs that are ineffective or harmful because pharmaceutical companies provide misleading data, according to an article by Ben Goldacre in the Guardian, “The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal.” Goldacre is the author of the forthcoming book Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients. Summary from the caption on the photo above Goldacre’s article: “Drugs are tested by their manufacturers, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that exaggerate the benefits.”

It’s a tough problem: you depend on your physician’s authority, and the authority of the healthcare establishment, to guide your decisions about health. Even if you trust your physician, can you trust the voices persistently whispering in his ear, especially if those voices are motivated by profit as a priority. Do pharma companies place their profit above your health? Don’t assume an easy answer – it’s complicated, though Goldacre’s book blurb suggests a belief that pharma uses the complexity as a cloak (“All these problems have been protected from public scrutiny because they’re too complex to capture in a sound bite.”)

In the Guardian, Goldacre writes:

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

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