What Don’t We Know About the Pharmaceutical Industry?

A Freakonomics Quorum (by the authors of the wildly popular economics book, Freakonomics).

Here’s the question they posed to medical experts with no agenda of their own:

“What’s something that most people don’t know, pro or con, about the pharmaceutical business, whether from an R&D, economic, or political perspective?”

Some of the responses:

1. Doctors who change their findings and presentations to be more favorable to the drugs they’re already being paid to promote at scientific meetings…

2. Obscene profits made on generic drugs by the large chain stores…E.g.

Generic Zocor (40mg #90)
$11.66 (Costco)
$164.99 (CVS, Houston)
$180.99 (CVS, L.A.)
$194.19 (Walgreens, Houston)
$221.89 (Walgreens, N.Y.)
$194.19 (Walgreens, L.A.)

3. Pharmaceutical company marketing strategies have focused on promoting illness, rather than simply promoting drugs…

Read it here. Amazing. Discouraging. Hope-giving for anyone promoting natural ways to everyday health.

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Hi Kim,

    Great article you’re directing people towards. It is frightening also.

    A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a study in New England Journal of Medicine about differential publication of antidepressant trials — such that if you looked at only published results, you would think that ~94% of trials were positive for the drugs they studied.

    However, the authors found that many of the negative trials were not published. This leads to unrealistic estimates of drug effectiveness.

    In fact, the FDA analyzed all the data (including trials that were not published) and found that only 51% of all studies of antidepressants showed positive results. When they looked more carefully at the effect sizes needed to show results, the positive outcomes came down to ~32% overall.

    It’s enough to make most people in medicine cringe, not to mention the people taking the medicine. Also, it indicates a need to look past headlines when evaluating both medical research and medical journalism.

    Buyer beware,

  • Dear Kim,

    Quite the article and likewise the comments.

    All I can say is that it pays to stay healthy. Carolyn and I have been ridiculed by friends and family for spending what we do on nutritional supplements for more than a decade.

    Neither my wife, nor I use any perscription drugs. When I see and hear what many spend monthly on their meds, we have a bargain.

    With out your health, what have you got? When I watched Paul McCartney loose his beloved Linda to cancer, I knew it wasn’t due to the lack of money for treatments.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the entire health care system here is the USA is following a catastrophic course.

    I am simply going to do my best to stay healthy with a supportive lifestyle. This much I can control.


    Tom Doiron

  • The following is an extrapolation from an article I was reading earlier today about Coenzyme Q10 but it could apply to any part of the pharmaceutical industry. It is clear that the American public is being taken advantage of and could be healthier if there was more available education about supplements. Although the interenet should make this a level playing field – I guess the information is not getting through to the millions who are overmedicaed. Here is the paragraph. If anyone wants the entire article let me know. Juliette

    Modern medicine seems to be based on an “attack strategy”, a philosophy of treatment formed in response to the discovery of antibiotics and the development of surgical/anesthetic techniques. Disease is viewed as something that can be attacked selectively – with antibiotics, chemotherapy, or surgery – assuming no harm to the host. Even chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, yield simple numbers which can be furiously assaulted with medications. Amidst the miracles and drama of 20th century medicine we may have forgotten the importance of host support, as if time borrowed with medications and surgery were restorative in and of itself. Yet, in this age, a patient may be cured of leukemia through multiple courses of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation, only to die slowly of unrecognized thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency(47). Like the vitamins discovered in the early part of this century, CoQ10 is an essential element of food that can now be used medicinally to support the sick host in conditions where nutritional depletion and cellular dysfunction occur. Surely, the combination of disease attacking strategy and host supportive treatments would yield much better results in clinical medicine.

  • Business Week recently (Jan 28 issue) had a revealing article on the pharmaceutical industry. BW looked specifically at statins and cholesterol. An ad by Pfizer states a 36% reduction of risk of heart attack. 36%, that sounds impressive. The results of the study Pfizer sited were that 3% of the placebo group suffered a heart attack and 2% of the Lipitor group suffered a heart attack. The study lasted 3.5 years. In 3.5 years, just 1 person less had a heart attack in the experimental group versus the control. For that 1 less heart attack, 99 other people had to take the drug for 3.5 years. This study was on people without heart disease, but had risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, etc). Are the costs and risk of side effects worth it?

    I highly recommend reading the article.

    Read the article.

  • Tom is right, it pays to stay healthy. I’ll keep putting my money in preventive care.

    Many companies are making healthy people think they are sick ,for the money.
    Like, Ray Moynihan, co-author of Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients:

    What a lot of people may not know is that for some time now, pharmaceutical company marketing strategies have focused on promoting illness, rather than simply promoting drugs. Underpinning many of the marketing strategies of big drug companies is a very sophisticated and comprehensive plan to widen the boundaries of illness, and create an environment in which more and more formerly healthy people are defined as “sick.” The strategies have many components — the most visible being TV and newspaper ads that make us think that our ailments and inconveniences are the signs and symptoms of genuine medical conditions. A sore stomach is “Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” a mild sexual difficulty is “Female Sexual Dysfunction,” and overactive grown-ups now have “Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.”
    Behind the TV ad scenes are a myriad of marketing strategies designed to grow the markets for drugs by both expanding old diseases and, sometimes, sponsoring the creation of new ones. Companies work with medical groups, patients groups, politicians, and the media to help shape and re-shape public attitudes toward illness — sometimes funding the very panels of experts that decide where to draw the line between sickness and health.
    The soaring costs of healthcare mean that pharmaceutical companies are attracting more and more public attention. But it is high time that there was more scrutiny of how these corporations are working to widen the boundaries of illness, turn more healthy people into patients, and essentially change what it means to be human by putting death and disease at the center of life.


  • I’m with Tom. We have not had to take a pharmaceutical drug in our family of four in twelve years, despite threats from the medical establishment that we were neglecting our children by not giving them the antibiotics the doctors prescribed. (We only go to get diagnoses). They are painfully uneducated about nutritional supplements and seem determined to stay that way.
    All I know is, we’re the healthiest people we know and we see the doctors the absolute minimum.

  • Juliette,

    You and others might be interested in a colleague of mine’s practice of “Living Medicine” rather than the ‘attack and kill’ kind of medicine you mention here. Gladys McGarey MD is the mother of holistic medicine, and is still going strong in her 80’s.

    Here’s her foundation web site, if anyone is interested:

    Many of us who have learned from her, but she is a real original. She was ‘holistic’ before it was ever cool. I am graced to know her; thankfully, she is definitely not alone in what she’s brought forth in medical education and practice.

    Just thought we should balance things out, a little. 🙂

    Best wishes,

  • I am so glad that the doctor at the helm of my NM company is a naturopathic physician and a certified nutritionist, Dr. Ria Gilday. She is the formulator of my company’s lead product, runs her own wellness center in PA and has a talk radio show centered around health.

    Each Wednesday evening she hosts a conference call for distributors and their guests. She educates the listeners about the value of wholefood nutrition and why our body gets sick. As she frequently tells us, our body does not ‘know’ disease. It only knows health and ‘degrees away from health’. When we give our body the tools it needs to get closer to health, then we make it easier for our body to do what it naturally is designed to do.

    Like those that commented before me, I have no prescription drugs lining my ‘medicine’ cabinet, and I’m also glad to not be lining the deep pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

    Stay well,
    Achiever Karen

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