Ex-BMJ editor Richard Smith’s preface to a book by Peter Gøtzsche, the head of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, entitled Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare – a book about the failures of the whole system of discovering, producing, marketing, and regulating drugs.
Many of those who read this book will ask if Peter has over-reached himself in suggesting that the activities of the drug industry amount to organised crime. The characteristics of organised crime, racketeering, is defined in US law as the act of engaging repeatedly in certain types of offence, including extortion, fraud, federal drug offences, bribery, embezzlement, obstruction of justice, obstruction of law enforcement, tampering with witnesses, and political corruption. Peter produces evidence, most of it detailed, to support his case that pharmaceutical companies are guilty of most of these offences.
And he is not the first to compare the industry with the Mafia or mob. He quotes a former vice-president of Pfizer, who has said:
“It is scary how many similarities there are between this industry and the mob. The mob makes obscene amounts of money, as does this industry. The side effects of organized crime are killings and deaths, and the side effects are the same in this industry. The mob bribes politicians and others, and so does the drug industry …”
Many people are killed by the industry, many more than are killed by the mob. Indeed, hundreds of thousands are killed every year by prescription drugs. Many will see this as almost inevitable because the drugs are being used to treat diseases that themselves kill. But a counter-argument is that the benefits of drugs are exaggerated, often because of serious distortions of the evidence behind the drugs, a “crime” that can be attributed confidently to the industry…
Most of Peter’s book is devoted to building up the case that the drug industry has systematically corrupted science to play up the benefits and play down the harms of their drugs… He shows too how the industry has bought doctors, academics, journals, professional and patient organisations, university departments, journalists, regulators, and politicians. These are the methods of the mob…
Critics of the drug industry have been increasing in number, respectability, and vehemence, and Peter has surpassed them all in comparing the industry with organised crime.
It’s increasingly how I’ve begun to think about pharma companies. I wasn’t aware that someone had made the charge explicitly.
For the past 50 years, it’s been Big Tobacco which has been cast as the Bad Guy. But Big Pharma is increasingly becoming a serious contender for that part. It’s much bigger than Big Tobacco, and it’s much nastier. I’ve never been quite sure what was supposed to be so bad about Big Tobacco anyway, apart from denying that smoking causes lung cancer. However, pharma companies are now facing expensive lawsuits due to the serious side effects caused by many medications. One example, Bayer, is having to pay out billions to prosecutors in the yaz law suit, for insufficient side effect warnings on the drugs labels. The drug seems to be causing blood clots and strokes in young women.
And since Tobacco Control gets a lot of funding from Big Pharma, they’ll automatically become Bad Guys too, once Big Pharma gets tainted.
Tobacco Control always casts itself as the Good Guy fighting the Forces of Evil incarnated in the tobacco company, Doing Good by helping wean smokers away from its lethal product.
But in fact Tobacco Control is simply trying to get smokers hooked on Big Pharma’s NRT products instead. And it’s using the brute force of the law – banning smoking, hiding and defacing traditional tobacco products, and ramping up tobacco taxation to extortionate levels – to do so. And it’s also doing its damnedest (using the law, as ever) to stop smokers turning to new-fangled e-cigs instead of NRT, because that would defeat the entire strategy.
The more people that learn that, far from doing any good, Tobacco Control is doing a colossal amount of outright evil, destroying communities and friendships, setting people against each other, crushing the hospitality industry, and hobbling the economy, as well as robbing smokers, the sooner their saintly mask will slip, and reveal the ravening wolf behind.
But before this happens, people will probably need to realise that the medical profession is deeply implicated as well.
The doctor and author Ben Goldacre, in his book Bad Pharma raises the interesting thought that doctors have come to see as “normal” a relationship with the drug industry that the public will see as wholly unacceptable when they fully understand it. In Britain doctors might follow journalists, members of Parliament, and bankers into disgrace for failing to see how corrupt their ways have become. At the moment the public tends to trust doctors and distrust drug companies, but the trust could be rapidly lost.