Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Our Daily Meds by Melody Petersen

Best Blogger Tips Last Friday, after yet another news item about the pharmaceutical industry, I decided to dedicate all the daily news digest to the failures and the aggressive marketing of drugs to the American public.

Today another news article popped up about how drug maker Wyeth used ghostwriters to downplay concerns about hormone therapy in medical journals.
Our Daily Meds reveals this process in-depth.

Our Daily Meds: 
How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs 

By Melody Petersen

Melody Petersen is a former reporter for the New York Times, for which she covered the pharmaceutical industry. 

Paperback: 448 pages 
Publisher: Picador; 1 Reprint edition (March 3, 2009)
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Topics covered:  Big Pharma, prescription drugs, health, medicine

"'We sometimes joke that when you're doing a clinical trial, there are two possible disasters...The first disaster is if you kill people.  The second disaster is if you cure them.'" (Page 143)
Our Daily Meds lifts the veil on the pharmaceutical industry.  Melody Petersen shows that this seemingly benevolent trade group preys upon Americans by turning medicine into record breaking profits.  The side effects of such a shift push patients into greater dependency upon prescription drugs and often causes more painful symptoms than they treat.

Petersen begins the book by discussing how drug companies actually create disease.  Surprisingly, she begins with the 1920s campaign by Listerine who used the term "Halitosis" to transform annoying "bad breath" into a serious social impediment.  Premenstral Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), erectile dysfunction, and overactive bladder are just a few conditions that Petersen describes were created by pharmaceutical companies as they are "concocting disorders and broadening the definition of disease to include more and more people."

Some of the aggressive campaigning to consumers is easy to recognize.  Since the legalization of direct marketing to consumers (only in the U.S. and New Zealand), prescription drug ads can be seen everywhere.  The secret within the medical industry is that pharmaceutical companies persuade doctors to prescribe their medications to consumers.  Far beyond free pens and notepads, drug manufacturers pay for lavish conferences (vacations) for physicians.  Some physicians are also paid to speak and promote drugs to other doctors.  Further, as a way to sidestep disclosure of risks, drug companies create foundations to promote their products and hire celebrities to endorse drugs by referring to them in interviews. 

Petersen goes into detail describing how the pharmaceutical industry transformed from seeking to cure disease to creating blockbuster drugs that only treat symptoms.  Releasing of patents on drugs also greatly reduce the amount of money a company can make on that drug.  By rearranging the chemical make-up of a drug and marketing it as "improved" or with "fewer side effects," manufacturers can continue reap profits when the brand name is chemically the same as the generic.  Pharmaceutical companies also ghostwrite articles to medical journals (see link above).

The chapter "Altered State" exposes prescription drug addiction and "superbugs" as a result of overmedication.  Petersen concludes this expose' with the problems of directly attributing deaths from prescriptions.   

In addition to outlining the problems within the pharmaceutical industry, Petersen also gives solutions as to how to fix the problems, such as stopping physicians from taking drug manufacturer's money, stopping covert advertising, and strengthening the FDA.

Reading this book changed how I look at prescriptions.  I used to accept them without question from the doctor.  This book seems like a perfect pairing with my new awareness of nutrition and diet.  So many of the drugs that we take as a society are unnecessary if care was given to what we consume.  It also enrages me that resources which could be used to cure disease is instead used to keep us hooked on pills.

Although well-researched (68 pages of citations), Petersen focuses too much on the state of Iowa.  The book would have been even more effective if these sections had a larger frame of scope. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about reforming health in this country, the healthcare industry, or his or her personal well-being.  Since almost half of Americans use prescription drugs each month, it is necessary that we are well-informed as to the risks.Pin It Best Blogger Tips
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