Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Deconstructing the Goose and living to tell about it.

In 2001, pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche was making billions from its acne medication Accutane. Over the next few years disturbing news began to surface about its possible side-effects, the chief of which was its effect on the brain, evidenced by between 300 and 3,000 young people whose only problem was acne began to experience depression, suicide and violent behavior. Psychiatrist and medical researcher J. Douglas Bremner (author of Before You Take that Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad for Your Health and other books on medical subjects) began to research the matter. What he discovered – that there appeared to be a verifiable correlation between the use of the medication and depression, suicide and acts of violence from young people who had no history of depression or violence.

What happened from there is material for a good crime – suspense novel as Hoffman-La Roche came after him like a swarm of angry hornets. What Dr. Bremner's book exposes is how an addiction to profit has changed medicine, medical research and the pharmaceutical industry from a focus on patients and medical service to a focus on money and lifestyle. What they did was declare total, no-holds-barred war on him with the end in mind of protecting their money stream and destroying him.

Following his course through the years of depositions, trials and threats is a dramatic and painful one. As a retired mental health professional myself, I am familiar with the way Big Pharma works, and was delighted to see them taken down a peg when they lost the fight and withdrew Accutane from the marketplace. When marketing and profit become a major focus, the whole purpose of both is turned on its head. “People in the healthcare system say they want to help people,” Dr. Bremner writes, “but the for-profit healthcare system drove doctors and hospital administrators to try to make money. A for-profit healthcare system is unethical.” I couldn't possibly agree more.

An “unadvertised” bonus is the story of Dr. Bremner's long personal struggle over the sudden death of his mother when he was a little boy. It is poignant and heart-wrenching and very familiar to me. It took courage for him to include it. Psychiatrists, like other mental health professionals (I was a clinical social worker) are just humans like all the rest of us. This is something we know or sense, but not something that is often shared. My hat is off to Dr. Bremner for sharing it.

A definite ***** read.

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