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Healthy Skepticism International News

February 2005

Book Review: Overdosed America


Review of John Abramson. Overdosed America ‘The broken promise of American Medicine’ 2004; New York: Harper Collins
In the late 1990’s for-profit hospitals were competing for the lucrative market in bone marrow transplants for patients with breast cancer. Even when four of five randomised controlled trials showed no benefit, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists saw this as ‘mixed early results’. Subsequently the fifth study that did show benefit for BMT and its population was found to be fraudulent.

Since the FTA adopted the practice of accepting contributions from drug companies to speed up the process of drug approvals, the number of drugs approved by them but later withdrawn from the market for safety reasons increased from 1.6 % of all drugs approved between 1993 and 1996 to 5.3% between 1997 and 2000 (p. 86). A 2000 newspaper article (USA Today) claimed that 54% of experts on Advisory Committees of the FDA have ‘a direct financial interest in the drug or topic they are being asked to evaluate’.

The role of public relation companies in drug company activities has spread from marketing to research (p. 109). The emergence of medical education and communication companies (MECC’s). One of the biggest of these companies says in its marketing materials ‘medical education is a powerful tool that can deliver your message to key audiences and get those audiences to take action that benefits your product’.

This is an excellent book and not just in relevance to American readers. Many of the drugs and conditions considered have similar patterns of promotion and treatment in European countries and Australasia.

Dr Jon Jureidini ( .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) )



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There is no sin in being wrong. The sin is in our unwillingness to examine our own beliefs, and in believing that our authorities cannot be wrong. Far from creating cynics, such a story is likely to foster a healthy and creative skepticism, which is something quite different from cynicism.”
- Neil Postman in The End of Education