Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America

Avid Reader: S. & S. Mar. 2020. 816p. ISBN 9781501151897. $35. MED
Investigative journalist Posner (Hitler’s Children) employs extensive, meticulous research in this exploration of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, tracing its evolution from 19th century nostrums to 21st century billiondollar drugs. Through it all, he notes the tension between the desire to help humanity and the greed that casts a shadow over the
industry. The push to develop antibiotics with the onset of World War II marked the beginnings of the modern industry. After the war, companies focused on searching for new drugs and extending patents on existing ones by making small changes in their composition. Posner also describes the rise of orphan drugs, which are used to treat rare medical conditions, and how they allowed companies to squeeze new money out of drugs previously considered unprofitable. Telling the story of generics, direct-to-consumer advertising, swine flu, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, ineffective government oversight, and the current opioid epidemic, Posner leaves no stone unturned. Threaded through this history of modern pharmaceuticals is the story of the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma fame. Posner uses one family’s unscrupulous greed as symbolic of the corruption in big pharma.
VERDICT A lengthy, yet fast-paced read that should interest anyone who is watching the rising cost of medicine with dismay.

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