Book review: Death by Prescription


Death by PrescriptionDeath By Prescription Special relevance to Canada

A Father Takes On His Daughter's Killer – The Multi-Billion Dollar Pharmaceutical Industry

by Terence Young.

This book tells a riveting story. It is also a clear, factual exposé of the pharmaceutical industry and the inadequate regulation of this industry in Canada.

Terence Young's journey begins when his daughter Vanessa, a healthy fifteen-year-old, suddenly dies after taking prescription medication for bloating. In his quest to find out why – and to prevent more similar deaths – he uncovers a horror story unfolding in plain view: a powerful industry putting profits ahead of patient safety, resulting in perhaps as many as 20,000 deaths per year in Canada alone due to adverse drug reactions.

Terence Young
Terence Young

While superbly organized to track and analyse prescribing habits, pharmaceutical companies have consistently displayed a remarkable inability to track and analyse adverse druge reactions: even when hundreds of patients are dying they somehow manage to remain oblivious. While superbly adept at gaining doctors' and consumers' attention with messages that pump up demand, they remain curiously inept at alerting the same people to potentially fatal side effects of their products. It seems that profits trump safety every time.

There are numerous excellent books that set out in detail the egregious behaviour of the pharmaceutical companies and how they manipulate virtually every facet of health care, from the training and education of doctors, to medical research and drug approvals.  This book is different because it's a great read: a drama in which we never lose sight of the victims of Big Pharma's greed – the dead daughter and the grieving family – as Young searches for answers.

It is also the story of a heroic struggle against all odds, as Young takes on the immensely wealthy drug company responsible for Vanessa's death. Opposed at every step by both the company and by Health Canada, he succeeds in having an inquest held which finds the medication to be one of the causes of death. The inquest and attendant publicity trigger the withdrawal of the drug from the Canadian market (it had already been withdrawn in the USA). He is also successful in getting authorization to launch a class action suit against the drug company.

Perhaps the most disturbing of Young's revelations is the sinister role that Health Canada plays, publicly claiming to be the guardian of public health while privately colluding with its 'customers' – the drug companies – to help them maximize sales and profits. He is now campaigning for a separate agency to regulate the pharmaceutical industry, untainted by Health Canada's relentless promotion of  industry's interests.

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