The dangers of prescription drugs in Professor Gøtzsche’s new book

Howard and I have been reading Professor Gøtzsche’s “Deadly Medicines and  Organised Crime: how big pharma has corrupted healthcare". We have been so profoundly affected that we both wanted to contribute to this blog.

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Sue's opinion:

This book could save your life.

Having read similar books (Dr Ray Moynihan's Selling Sickness, Dr David Healy's Pharmageddon and Dr Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma) and written a drug chapter in Fed Up, I thought I knew it all -  but the corruption, lies and deceit in the drug industry, the medical profession and medical journals are now far more dangerous and widespread than I realised.

Professor Gøtzsche gives a story of his own, when as a young doctor attending a one day medical seminar, he was surprised to be handed a plain envelope at the end of the day ... it contained a note of thanks from a pharmaceutical company and a $1000 bill. Gøtzsche comments "If you don't send the money back, you have signalled that you might be willing to think you are even more valuable for the company next time", and that's how it starts. Surveys show that doctors think they are not influenced by money, gifts or advertising from the drug industry, yet they really are.

Some of Professor Gotzsche's biggest targets are the painkillers described as "non-steroidal anti-inflammatories", such as ibuprofen, diclofenac and celecoxib. The name for these drugs, "anti-inflammatory", is not supported by evidence, he says. Instead, they are terms invented by the drug industry, to lure doctors into believing that these drugs somehow also have an effect on the disease process and reduce the joint damage.

I have personal experience of this one. When we hiked the 850 km Camino in Spain in 2013, I took ibuprofen  (NOT recommended for people with salicylate sensitivity) because I thought it would reduce the inflammation of my acute tendonitis. It didn't reduce the inflammation, though it reduced the pain, enabling me to walk on and thus causing permanent damage.

In one of the biggest ever drug scandals, another so called anti-inflammatory called Vioxx was withdrawn after it was found to have caused up to 140,000 cases of serious heart disease in the US during the five years it was on the market and while its manufacturer, Merck, was withholding information about its risks. It is thought that about half the cases resulted in death. Professor Gotzsche says those deaths represent a system of drug regulation that simply does not protect patients.

Professor Gotzsche's list of medicines to avoid

  • Anti-depressants for all, as they very likely don't even work for severe cases of depression
  • All brain-active drugs in children
  • Anti-psychotics and other brain-active drugs for the elderly. Psychotropic drugs should be used as little as possible and mostly in very acute situations, as they are very harmful when used long term
  • Anti-dementia drugs, as they very likely don't work
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for arthritis, muscle pain and headaches, including over-the-counter, low-dose ibuprofen. These drugs should be used as little as possible
  • Mammography screening, as it doesn't prolong life whereas it makes many healthy women ill through overdiagnosis and leads to the premature death for some because radiotherapy and chemotherapy increases mortality when used for harmless cancers detected at screening
  • Drugs for urinary incontinence, as they very likely don't work


What I found most convincing was the huge number of similar books referred to, that have been written by ethically-minded doctors, former FDA officials and former medical journal editors. 

What can we do?

The guidelines for the RPAH elimination diet that we recommend are clear: avoid non-essential medications. Our medications factsheet is full of stories from failsafers whose medication has made them worse, like this one:

"My 3yr old son is salicylate and benzoate intolerant ...  Jack has learnt his "happy" and "cranky" foods ...  I have since realised that poor Jack has been reacting his whole life. Baby panadol, bonjela, infacol - yes all salicylate and or benzoate as ingredients!  In reality we have been making things worse for Jack by giving him over the counter medications that people use everyday in an attempt to ease pain." - from story [1320] and this one:

"Just had another clash with so-called 'safe' medications. I asked the pharmacist to send me a cough suppressant, and discussed with her (again) my chemical/food reactivity. She sent me Duro-Tuss Forte, which, trusting soul that I am, I began to use. That night the coughing got worse and worse, to the point of being on the brink of vomiting. Next day, coughing was a little less racking and throat-scouring. Then, last night Printzmetal's Angina woke me - really bad pain, and the trigger for me is salicylates! ... Now, I thought the chemist had checked the ingredients. It turns out that she did not know anything about 'sunset yellow' colouring  (artificial colour 110) ..."- from story [1319]

Obviously if you are in a car accident or similar and it is a matter of life and death, go ahead and use the drugs that may save your life. Otherwise, think 3 times before using any medication. One of the most important points I learned from Professor Gotzche's book is this: when people take a drug and they get better, they think the drug has been effective. BUT - the human body is very good at healing itself. In many cases they would have got better anyway.

I have only one criticism to make of this amazing book and its brave author. He does not understand that the reason many people use drugs in the first place is that our processed food industry has caused their symptoms. So here is another alternative: use diet instead of drugs.

For example:

Depression, see our Depression factsheet
Children's behavioural disorders, see our factsheet on ADHD, factsheet on autism
Alzheimers and dementia, see our factsheet
Arthritis, see our factsheet
Cancer, see Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Diet & Cancer Research http://pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer
Urinary incontinence, see our Bladder problems in adults factsheet

Howard's opinion:

Professor Peter Gøtzsche’s book “Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: how big pharma has corrupted healthcare” is blunt and utterly convincing about how the drug industry has systematically perverted science to play up the benefits and play down the undoubted harms of their drugs. The sheer extent of this corruption is breathtaking and is laid out so clearly by the person most qualified in the world to tell us how and what has been destroyed because he co-founded the independent Cochrane Foundation.

Drugs are now the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. The billions of dollars wasted, the pandemic of fraud and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost beggars belief. Corpocracy has invaded regulators, GPs, health education, health funding, patient advocacy groups (who funds Asthma Australia, the Heart Foundation, Beyond Blue?), journalism, government and even our own ideas about health.

At a time when half the cost of the health system is spent in the last year of people’s lives, and when total health spending will absorb the ENTIRE government budget within a generation at the current rate of expansion, it is time we individuals took back responsibility for our own health from those no longer able to advise us, scientifically or morally. If you are only going to read one book this year, make it this one! Or spend 15mins on the video at http://www.madinamerica.com/2013/11/peter-gotzsche-2/

Further reading

Dr Peter Gotzsche, “Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: how big pharma has corrupted healthcare” http://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Medicines-Organised-Crime-Healthcare/dp/1846198844

Even if you are not going to read the book, it is worth reading the free "look inside" at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Medicines-Organised-Crime-Healthcare/dp/1846198844#reader_B00G353WCE

Peter Gotzsche, founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, visits Australia to talk about dangers of prescription drugs, http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/peter-gotzsche-founder-of-the-cochrane-collaboration-visits-australia-to-talk-about-dangers-of-prescription-drugs-20150207-136nqc.html