Its shocking title – Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients – intrigued me, and I was soon drawn into a world of pharmaceutical politics, lies, and legal battles.
And what did I find there?
Drug companies paying researchers to test their own drugs while retaining rights to all trial data, so they can choose to stop a trial at any time (for example, if their drug isn’t performing well).
They are under no enforced obligation to publish these or any other negative results, which results in the distortion of a drug’s effectiveness: a company may choose to publish a positive trial while withholding from both doctors and the public negative trials they chose not to publish, thus giving a false representation of their drug.
So why was an aspiring academic librarian and budding environmental activist like myself captivated by a book airing the pharmaceutical industry’s dirty laundry?
Because a book that details the expensive cost of unpublished data, tampered drug trials, and selective public information is impossible to ignore, much less read without some measure of indignation and disgust.
The fact that medicine thrives on a capitalist market with little enforced regulation is despicable when the game is being played with people’s lives – mine, yours, your family – and it is particularly distressing when you realize the doctors you trust for sound medical advice certainly don’t make the rules.
When you go to a hospital, you expect your medical provider to be able to make an informed prescription decision, yet Bad Pharma outlines that this is impossible if trial data is being withheld and distorted by the pharmaceutical industry.
Your doctor judges the best she or he can with the published information available, yet they don’t have any more access to this missing data than you do – or even journalists and researchers for that matter.
Transparency and trial data request battles are often waged for years, and that’s longer than anyone wants to wait for a prescription.
I was impressed that though Bad Pharma’s author, Ben Goldacre, is a doctor himself, he writes for a common reader. Goldacre’s concerns, evidence, and suggestions are clearly outlined, and the book contains numerous references for readers intrigued to investigate beyond the 400 some pages of his work.
Reading a book that not only exposes the failures of industry and regulation, but also recommends suggestions for improvement, transparency, and safety refreshingly shows Goldacre’s expectations that these concerns to be taken seriously and remedied.
What troubled me the most as I read Bad Pharma, however, was that this is no new problem.
People have known about it for a long time as evidenced by the laws and regulations that have been passed in recent years, yet these have been blatantly ignored and those who choose to ignore them have gone unpunished.
To imagine that an area as important and essential to our daily existence as the field of medicine does not have more stringent regulations, transparency, or accountability is absurd.
Information should be freely available and easily accessible to doctors, researchers, and patients, so informed decisions can be made that put the safety of people before the capital interests of companies.