In a scathing critique of the French pharmaceutical industry, two prominent doctors are claiming that half of the drugs on the French market are useless and about 5 percent of them are potentially dangerous. Ending the use of these harmful drugs would prevent up to 20,000 deaths annually, they say.
Guide des 4000 Médicaments Utiles, Inutiles ou Dangereux (A Guide to 4,000 Useful, Useless and Dangerous Medicines) was published last week in France. The authors are Phillippe Even, former head of the Necker Hospital in Paris, and Bernard Debré, a urologist at the Hospital Cochin in Paris and a member of the French parliament.
Even and Debré list 58 drugs as dangerous, including some anti-inflammatory medications and drugs used to treat cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, osteoporosis, contraception, muscle cramps and nicotine addiction. Statins, which are widely prescribed to lower cholesterol, were called “completely useless.” They said they wrote the book to offer objective and independent analysis to patients and doctors in a country where the drug industry has too much power.
“The pharmaceutical industry is the most lucrative, the most cynical and the least ethical of all the industries,” Even told The Guardian. “It is like an octopus with tentacles that has infiltrated all the decision-making bodies, world health organizations, governments, parliaments, high administrations in health and hospitals and the medical profession.
“It has done this with the connivance, and occasionally the corruption of the medical profession. I am not just talking about medicines but the whole of medicine. It is the pharmaceutical industry that now outlines the entire medical landscape in our country.”
Even blamed “pressure from the pharmaceutical industry on government and doctors” for the number of unnecessary medications on the market. He said the French regulatory system is simply not working.
France spends more than any other European country on drugs and the government pays for most of it. The average French citizen gets 47 prescriptions a year.
Many began to question the nation’s high consumption of prescription drugs after a scandal erupted last year over benfluorex (Mediator), an anti-diabetes drug that was linked to at least 500 deaths. Although banned in other countries, it was used as an appetite suppressant in France.
While critical of many drugs, Even and Debré said about half of the 4,000 medicines were effective. They praised antibiotics, antiretroviral drugs used to treat AIDS and some anti-cancer medicines.
The French pharmaceutical association LEEM (Les Entreprises du Médicament) said the book was “dangerous and irresponsible” and would “have a destabilizing impact.”
LEEM president Christian Lajoux told Agency France Press that “hundreds of their examples are neither precise nor properly documented” and warmed the book could “alarm patients unnecessarily and lead them to stop taking medicines that are suitable for the illnesses they suffer from.”
Even said the pharmaceutical industry was only interested in profits and easy money.
“They haven’t discovered very much new for the last 30 years, but have multiplied production, using tricks and lies,” he told the Guardian. “It has become interested only in the immediate, in short term gains. On Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry is third after petrol and banking, and each year it increases by 20%. It’s more profitable than mining for diamonds.”