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International: Doctors Say 50% of French Prescriptions Are Useless

International: Doctors Say 50% of French Prescriptions Are Useless: Claim That Medicines Kill 20,000 A year in France: Pharmaceutical firms say allegations are alarmist

From Guardian (UK) (September 15, 2012)

Half of all medicines being prescribed by doctors in France are either useless or potentially dangerous, according to two eminent medical specialists. They blame pharmaceutical companies for keeping these drugs on sale at huge expense to the health system and the taxpayer.

Professor Philippe Even, director of the prestigious Necker Institute, and Bernard Debre, a doctor and member of parliament, say removing what they describe as superfluous and hazardous drugs from those paid for by the health service would save up to euros 10bn (pounds 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 Debre 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.

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 accused the 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. 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. It is the pharmaceutical industry that now outlines the entire medical landscape in our country."

The French consume medication worth euros 36bn every year, about euros 532 for each citizen. The state covers 77% of the cost, amounting to 12% of GDP; in Britain spending on medicines is 9.6% of GDP. "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.

Even accused the industry of having a get-rich-quick attitude, chasing 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. Nor are they interested in developing drugs for conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease because 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 for diamonds."


The proportion of GDP the French state spends on prescription medicine annually. The comparable figure for Britain is 9.6%

Posted: September 2012