Nursing Book Club
Our Daily Meds
How the pharmaceutical companies hooked the nation on prescription drugs
Reviewed By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
The title says it all — the 432 pages that follow effectively build evidence to back it up. Melody Petersen is an award-winning journalist who followed the pharmaceutical industry for The New York Times for four years. She has no illusions about whether the American public really needs the $250 billion dollars worth of prescription drugs that they purchased in 2005. But this book vividly shows how we were led down the path we took to get there.
According to the author, the pharmaceutical industry in America was transformed over the last 25 years. Companies that sold snake oil at the turn of the century were forced to begin testing the safety of their products in 1938, when Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This resulted in “more truly effective drugs… invented between 1935 and 1955, than in all previous human history.” Drugs like penicillin, vaccines, synthetic vitamins, antihistamines and steroids advanced medicine in ways previously unconsidered. Drugs could now benefit both adults and children; drugs could now treat as well as prevent and cure.
So what happened? According to Petersen, it was a combination of things, including less funding for the FDA and less stringent testing obligations. The industry discovered blockbuster drugs — those that could treat chronic symptoms for long periods of time. As Paul Brooke, an analyst at Morgan Stanley said, “The $50-million-a-year drug of the 1970s became the $500-million-a-year drug of the 1980s” through the use of successful advertising campaigns. As pharmaceutical executives changed their hats from scientist to marketing specialist, the government went along and began to allow direct-to-user advertising in print and on television. The goal of the industry became one of convincing you that you need their medication. Constipation, heartburn and frequent urination now became disease states that required a visit to the doctor, resulting in a prescription to take home. Only one other country allows this, and their population is just a small fraction of ours.
Petersen saves special fury for the physicians serving on pharmaceutical boards — the ones being paid as spokespeople, allowing their names to be used to give credibility to ghostwritten articles, or taking all-expenses-paid “educational” junkets at the expense of the industry. The New York Times recently carried an article in its weekly Science section, stating that three well-known academic physicians have severed all ties with the pharmaceutical industry. There is a groundswell of bad feeling that physicians who take money cannot possibly be objective in their research, and that physicians should fully disclose the influence that drug reps have had on their writing prescriptions.
I’ve often had patients ask me which OTC pain medication is best. In my own mind, I’ve tried to evaluate why store shelves are full of Tylenol, Aleve and Motrin, plus their generic equivalent. After reading this book, I think I might have the answer for those patients — probably whichever one is on sale.
Christine Contillo holds BS and BSN degrees and has worked as a nurse since 1979. Christine has written extensively for various nursing publications as well as The New York Times.
This article is from workingnurse.com.