Zware kritiek op ‘Big Pharma’

In een recensie van een nieuw boek in de American Scientist wordt de Amerikaanse farmaceutische industrie krachtig aangevallen op hun ethische gedrag: het onder druk zetten en fêteren van artsen, het manipuleren en maskeren van hun onderzoek en andere verkoop en marketingacties zijn onacceptabel.

Wat nog steeds door de anti-rokenbeweging aan de tabaksindustrie wordt toegeschreven als onacceptabel gedrag begint nu, na lange tijd onopgemerkt te zijn gebleven, ook in sterke mate aan de dag te treden bij de maatjes van diezelfde antirokenorganisaties: de farmaceutische industrie. Er wordt daarom in boek en recensie sterk gepleit voor het onder curatêle van de overheid stellen van deze industrie.

Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks, and Costs of Prescription Drugs. Jerry Avorn. viii + 448 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. $27.50.

Is the pharmaceutical industry a dangerous and crooked business that federal and state authorities need to bring to heel? Should those who develop, market or prescribe drugs hang their heads in shame when faced with the stark reality of what they do to earn a living? Is Big Pharma in fact the moral equivalent of the tobacco industry? One could well come away from Marcia Angell’s The Truth about the Drug Companies or Jerome Kassirer’s On the Take thinking so. In both books, the sort of moral opprobrium once directed against Big Tobacco is aimed squarely at the pharmaceutical industry, along with its legions of lobbyists, the politicians awash in its campaign contributions and the doctors it has bought, free meal by free meal, junket by junket, free sample by free sample and trinket by trinket.

Kassirer and Angell, who are physicians at Tufts and Harvard, respectively, and who are both former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, are not the only authors currently taking a critical look at industry excesses. Harvard physician and pharmacoepidemiologist Jerry Avorn also has a new book examining some of the problems with the way prescription drugs are brought to market, the thoughtful and incisive Powerful Medicines.


To have drugs, we must have a pharmaceutical industry. The key to reforming it in the short run is, as these books show, going after its worst excesses and tamping them down. In the long run, more serious measures are needed. With its self-proclaimed ethical mission in mind, the industry must be restructured. It needs to be firmly grounded in science and properly motivated to provide us with the drugs that will do us all the most good. Accomplishing that is a matter of dialogue and redirection, not demonization.

American Scientist: Indicting Big Pharma

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