Our Daily Meds How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs

Melody Petersen




Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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A Finalist for the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism

In the last thirty years, the big pharmaceutical companies have transformed themselves into marketing machines selling dangerous medicines as if they were Coca-Cola or Cadillacs. They pitch drugs with video games and soft cuddly toys for children; promote them in churches and subways, at NASCAR races and state fairs. They've become experts at promoting fear of disease, just so they can sell us hope.

There is no doubt that pharmaceutical drugs can save lives. But the relentless marketing that has enriched corporate executives and sent stock prices soaring has not come without consequences. Prescription pills taken as directed by physicians are estimated to kill one American every five minutes. And that figure doesn't reflect the damage done as the overmedicated take to the roads.

In Our Daily Meds, Melody Petersen connects the dots to show how corporate salesmanship has triumphed over science inside the biggest pharmaceutical companies and, in turn, how this promotion-driven industry has taken over the practice of medicine and is changing American life. She shows how an industry with the promise to help so many is leaving a legacy of needless harm and potentially life-changing consequences for everyone, not just the 65 percent of Americans who unscrew a prescription cap every day.


Praise for Our Daily Meds

"Melody Petersen, who was a reporter for The New York Times, has written a broad, convincing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry. She lays out in detail the many ways, both legal and illegal, that drug companies can create 'blockbusters' (drugs with yearly sales of over a billion dollars) and the essential role that KOLs play."—Marcia Angell, The New York Review of Books

"An angrily illuminating book on drug-related corporate malfeasance and patient peril . . . tough, cogent and disturbing . . . [A] chilling investigation."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"A fascinating introduction to one of the most powerful industries of our time."—Shannon Brownlee, The Washington Post
"Sobering, scrupulously researched . . . We have no choice but to take careful heed."—The Boston Globe

"Everyone talks about health care, but few ask why we're so sick to begin with. Melody Petersen's book goes a long way toward explaining that the people who came up with the 'cures' are actually the problem."—Bill Maher, Real Time

"Full disclosure: Not long ago I worked as one of a small army of associates defending pharmaceutical products liability cases. As one fellow lawyer put it, we were 'making the world safe for giant pharmaceutical companies.' Much of my time was spent reviewing marketing for the drug at issue. Given that, I read Our Daily Meds, by former New York Times writer [Petersen] with no small measure of interest. The subtitle—How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs—gives a small hint of the book's attitude toward big pharma. And given how easy a target drugmakers are, I was expecting somewhat of a hatchet job. Instead, I found myself thoroughly persuaded by Petersen's book. She presents a cogent, well-researched argument that pharmaceutical companies, under pressure from investors, have become supremely focused on developing 'blockbuster' billion-dollar-a-year drugs . . . Petersen's indictment of the pharmaceutical companies, and more surprisingly, the doctors who play along, is damning. She describes how doctors are treated to all-expense-paid conferences at resorts and hotels by the drug companies and then complain when they're not chauffeured to and from, or when there's inadequate entertainment for their children. Or doctors are paid to let their names be listed as authors on articles in medical journals written by pharmaceutical companies, copies of which are then distributed to other doctors by the company's marketers as though they're independent confirmation of the drug's safety and efficacy . . . Attorneys who may have touched one of the numerous product liability lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and their products will likely find this book extremely interesting. But non-lawyer healthcare consumers will also gain a tremendous amount from this well-researched book."—Fabio Bertoni, New York Law Journal Magazine

"A devastating, often shocking, critique of a once proud industry that has been converted by corporate greed into a vast marketing machine that is often a menace to health. Petersen supports her indictment with an abundance of fascinating detail and human interest stories. An excellent contribution to the growing demand for better regulation of an industry that has grown way too powerful and heedless of the interests of its customers."—Marcia Angell, M. D., Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Arnold S. Relman, M. D., Prof. Emeritus of Medicine and of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

"A no-punches-pulled indictment of the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. Big Pharma has been making money but doing harm ever since it shifted a quarter-century ago from research to marketing, asserts Petersen, a business reporter for The New York Times . . . These 'medicine merchants,' she charges, sell their products with slick television ads aimed at adults and appealing cartoon characters aimed at children; their advertising is ubiquitous, showing up everywhere from NASCAR races and state fairs to churches and spiritual guides. Big Pharma has gained unprecedented power over the practice of medicine, Petersen contends, spending enormous amounts of money to entice doctors into prescribing its products and turning medical continuing-education courses into virtual sales bazaars. The drug companies now have 'a stranglehold on medical science.' They form alliances with universities; research studies are paid for by the industry; and articles and editorials ghostwritten by PR firms appear over the names of academics. Petersen names specific pharmaceutical companies, executives and drugs, devoting entire chapters to the marketing of Detrol, Ritalin, Neurontin and Zantac. The harm they do to the public is not just economic, she notes; Americans spend more on medical care than on housing or food, and the resulting over-medicalization poses health risks of its own. In addition, as companies concentrate on blockbuster lifestyle drugs like Viagra and copycat medications for chronic conditions (one more statin to lower cholesterol), much-needed drugs for rare diseases are not being developed. Petersen aims her barbs directly at Big Pharma, but the stories she tells about the companies' relations with physicians and scientists willing to be bought makes it clear that there's plenty of blame to go around."—Kirkus Reviews

"Justifying her sensationalist title with thorough documentation, award-winning business journalist Petersen, who spent four years covering the pharmaceutical beat for the New York Times , presents a truly disturbing book. Focusing on events within her home state of Iowa, Petersen describes the out-of-control trajectory of America's most powerful industry as it co-opts physicians with swag, subverts peer review and continuing education, turns cash-strapped university medical schools into corporate tools, and drains public coffers to pay exploding Medicaid-funded prescription costs. As a result, U.S. citizens face astronomical health-care and insurance bills, more than 100,000 deaths annually attributable to prescription drugs "taken as directed," and shortened life expectancies. As Greg Critser did in Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies, Petersen takes readers beyond glossy advertising and celebrity endorsements to glimpse the alarming dark side of the American pharmaceutical industry. If it cannot be found in doctors' offices beside old copies of Golf magazine, this work should certainly be available in all libraries."—Kathy Arsenault, University of South Florida Library, St. Petersburg, Florida, Library Journal

"'Drug companies have institutionalized deception', said a former pharmaceutical executive at a 1990 Senate hearing. And former New York Times reporter Petersen details these deceptions with information that will be startling even to those who closely follow the news on big pharma. Her subtitle, How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs, is most effectively illustrated in a chapter detailing Parke-Davis's aggressive marketing of the epilepsy drug Neurontin for everything, in blatant disregard of regulations against promoting drugs for uses not approved by the FDA. Such reporting, rather than style or analysis, is Petersen's strength. Much of what she recounts—such as the glut of copycat drugs like antacids, and marketers' lavish wining and dining of doctors—has been covered in books by others, like Marcia Angell. But Petersen fleshes out these issues and names prominent doctors who, she says, are on the take. She is particularly strong on the ghostwriting of medical journal articles by advertising agencies. She also covers less familiar matters, like the environmental impact of drug residues in water . . . she ends with tough, sound suggestions for reforms to make the pharmaceutical industry honest and to protect consumers."—Publishers Weekly

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  • Melody Petersen

  • Melody Petersen covered the pharmaceutical beat for The New York Times for four years. In 1997, her investigative reporting won a Gerald Loeb Award, one of the highest honors in business journalism. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles.

  • Melody Petersen Molly Hawkey
    Melody Petersen