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Half of medicines sold in France are ‘useless’

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-09-13

Two top French medical specialists say half of the drugs sold in France “are useless” or bad for patients’ health. The pair blame pressure from the pharmaceuticals industry for keeping superfluous drugs on the market at huge expense to the taxpayer.

Half of all medicines sold in France are either useless or dangerous, according to a book authored by two eminent French medical experts.

According to Philippe Even, former head of the Necker Hospital in Paris, and Bernard Debré, a doctor and member of parliament for the opposition UMP party, one in two medicines sold in pharmacies have absolutely no health benefit, while 5% are actively harmful.

Even told daily newspaper Le Parisien on Thursday that he and Debré had decided to conduct the study in the wake of the “Mediator” scandal. Mediator, a drug for controlling diabetes, is suspected of causing hundreds of deaths.

In their book “4,000 useful, useless and dangerous medicines” they calculate that the French state would save up to 10 billion euros a year by halting social security reimbursements on drugs they say have either no value or are outright dangerous.

They blamed “pressure from the pharmaceutical industry on government and doctors” for filling pharmacies with superfluous and unnecessary products, while the removal of discredited medicines from the market was “extremely rare”.

France is the world’s fifth-largest consumer of medicines, behind the US, China, Germany and Ireland.

The average French citizen will get through 47 medicine packs, prescription or otherwise, every year – at a cost of 532 euros per person, which equates to 12% of GDP. The state shoulders 77% of the cost.

In the UK, by comparison, spending on medicines is 9.6% of GDP.

Drug ‘totally ruined’ patient’s sex life

Drugs that came under the authors’ microscope include Zyban, once hailed as a miracle stop-smoking cure, which they say has harmful psychological side-effects that overshadow its medical value.

They also criticised “Third Generation” contraceptive pills “that are no more efficient than older ones but which give the added risk of pulmonary embolisms”.

And “Requip”, prescribed to control Parkinson’s disease, was blasted for “totally ruining the sex life” of one patient. The researchers said the drug was “under investigation”.

“We have to do a big clean-up of our pharmacies,” Professor Even told Le Parisien. “France has a huge public debt and the state can make considerable savings.

“Meanwhile in the UK, where people take far fewer medicines than us, people are no less healthy as a result.”

Even and Bebré were keen to point out, however, that while half the 4,000 medicines they reviewed were “useless”, “happily, many of the others are extremely efficient”.

“Antibiotics are the best [medical] discovery of all time,” Even told Le Parisien. “Antiretroviral drugs have given us a very real lead on AIDS and a large number of anti-cancer medicines have had an immense impact on our treatment of the disease.”

On Thursday, French pharmaceutical association LEEM said the book would “have a destabilising impact” on patients.

LEEM President Christian Lajoux told AFP: “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 [government] agencies responsible for the health of patients and of controlling what information is given to them [about drugs].” 

Date created : 2012-09-13

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