‘Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients’ by Ben Goldacre exposes the dodgy trial methods and practices behind the $600 billion pharmaceutical industry. In a nutshell, drug companies regularly hide negative results from clinical trials and exaggerate the benefits of medicines in order to make vast profits. Even regulators have been known to withhold information and allow ineffectual or dangerous drugs onto the market. The consequence is that both doctors and patients are unable to make well-informed decisions about healthcare.
I read Goldacre’s first book ‘Bad Science‘ a few weeks ago. This inspired me to investigate ‘Bad Pharma’ which is another meticulously researched yet highly readable piece of work. Behind Goldacre’s witty style of writing lies a scary book about scary life and death issues which are happening pretty much right under our noses and have very serious consequences for medical research and public health in general. Goldacre provides several real-life examples of drug companies and regulators deliberately withholding information. For me, the most shocking aspect of the whole situation is just how widespread these practices are as well as the relatively low level of debate and public awareness of the issue.
Although it is not entirely essential to have read ‘Bad Science’ before tackling ‘Bad Pharma’, it probably does help to take a look at it first as ‘Bad Science’ clarifies some of the more general issues surrounding evidence-based medicine and the misuse of statistics and data. On the other hand, I also slightly regret reading ‘Bad Pharma’ so soon after ‘Bad Science’. Goldacre is clearly passionate about the issues discussed here and argues his case very well but I think ‘Bad Pharma’ was a bit too long and I found it quite repetitive after a while. As a more general book, ‘Bad Science’ was ideal for a non-specialist reader like myself whereas ‘Bad Pharma’ concentrates on what I found to be a pretty niche area in a lot of detail.
Nevertheless, ‘Bad Pharma’ is a worthwhile read about an important subject. One of the best things about the book is that Goldacre doesn’t just explain the existing problems – he also outlines some sensible and practical suggestions for improving the regulation of the industry. Whether or not the drug companies and regulators will take any notice of his suggestions is another matter though.