Our Daily Meds: Navigating the Polypharmacy

23 04 2008

By Derek Beres

In the 1970s, Professor J. Scott Armstrong put forth a conundrum to close to 2,000 business school students and executive trainees. Intrigued by the corporatizing of the pharmaceutical industry, he created a scenario (based on an actual 1969 incident) in which a company has a new drug with a projected $20 million profit. The catch: For each million the company nets, there is one death from side effects. The first twenty million meant twenty deaths, and so on thereafter.

Students and trainees were given five options, ranging from immediately pulling the drug from shelves–regulators stated cheaper, more effective pills without such grave side effects exist–to downplaying risks and promoting the drug heavily, creating a media-driven whitewash in which consumers could not discern problems, and therefore readily open their pockets.

The results? Zero took the first option; 79% chose the latter. As former NY Times journalist Melody Petersen writes in her new book, Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs (Sarah Chrichton Books), “For these students and trainees, who were playing the roles of the executives they would soon become, profits took precedence over patients.”

As one can imagine by the book’s subtitle, the above is not an isolated case study. In fact, it shows how the drive to maximize profits at any expense is built into the educational system by which students become executives. Petersen spends the majority of her book citing such examples, moving from hard facts and statistical data to personal interviews with people who have fallen victim to the marketing of pharmaceutical companies or, worse, have lost loved ones during the same process.

Click here to read the full blog on the Huffington Post




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