Half of all medicines being
prescribed by doctors in France are
either useless or potentially dangerous for patients, according to two eminent
medical specialists. They blame the powerful pharmaceutical companies for
keeping these drugs on sale at huge expense to the health system and the
Professor Philippe Even, director
of the prestigious Necker Institute,
and Bernard Debré, a doctor and member of parliament, say
removing what they describe as superfluous and hazardous drugs from the list of
those paid for by the French health service would save up to €10bn (£8bn) a
year. It would also prevent up to 20,000 deaths linked to the medication and
reduce hospital admissions by up to 100,000, they claim. In their 900-page book
The Guide to the 4,000
Useful, Useless or Dangerous Medicines, Even and Debré examined the
effectiveness, risks and cost of pharmaceutical drugs available in France.
Among those that they alleged were "completely useless" were statins,
widely taken to lower cholesterol. The blacklist of 58 drugs the doctors
claimed are dangerous included anti-inflammatories and drugs prescribed for
cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, osteoporosis, contraception, muscular
cramps and nicotine addiction.
The Professional Federation
of Medical Industrialists denounced
the doctors' views as full of "confusions and approximations". "This book is
helping to alarm those who
are sick needlessly and risks leading them to stop treatments," it said in
Christian Lajoux, the federation's president said: "It is
dangerous and irresponsible … hundreds of their examples are neither
precise nor properly documented. We must not forget that the state exercises
strict controls on drugs. France has specialist agencies responsible for the
health of patients and of controlling what information is given to them."
Professor Even told the Guardian
most of the drugs criticised in
the book are produced by French laboratories. He accused the pharmaceutical
industry of pushing medicines at doctors who then push them on to patients.
"The pharmaceutical industry is the most lucrative, the most cynical and
the least ethical of all the industries," he said. "It is like an
octopus with tentacles that has infiltrated all the decision making bodies,
world health organisations, governments, parliaments, high administrations in health
and hospitals and the medical profession.
"It has done this with the connivance, and occasionally the
corruption of the medical profession. I am not just talking about medicines but
the whole of medicine. It is the pharmaceutical industry that now outlines the
entire medical landscape in our country."
The French consume medication
worth €36bn (£29bn) every year,
about €532 (£430) for each citizen who has an average 47 boxes of medicine in
cupboards every year. The state covers 77% of the cost; in Britain spending on
medicines is around £271 per person. "Yet in the UK people have the same
life expectancy of around 80 years and are no less healthy," said Even.
The authors were commissioned
by former President Nicolas
Sarkozy to write a report over the Mediator affair,
a drug developed for diabetes patients but prescribed as a
slimming aid, that has been linked to the deaths of hundreds of patients who developed
heart problems. However, Even accused
the industry of having a get-rich-quick attitude to making medicines and said
it was interested in chasing only easy profits. "They haven't discovered
very much new for the last 30 years, but have multiplied production, using
tricks and lies.
"Sadly, none of them is interested
in making drugs for rare
conditions or, say, for an infectious disease in countries with no money,
because it's not a big market. Nor are they interested in developing drugs for
conditions like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease because it too difficult and
there's not money to be made quickly.
"It has become interested only in the immediate, in short term
gains. On Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry is third after petrol and
banking, and each year it increases by 20%. It's more profitable than mining
Asked to explain French people's
apparent dependence on
medication, Even said: "For the last 40 years patients have been told that
medicines are necessary for them, so they ask for them. Today we have doctors
who want to give people medicines and sick people asking for medicines. There's
nothing objective or realistic about this."
He added: "There is nothing revolutionary in this book.
This has all been known for some time."
This article was
amended on 17 September 2012 to correct
the figures given for health spending. The original article gave overall health
spending figures and not spending on medicines.