The American Connection: Profiteering and Politicking in the "Ethical" Drug Industry by John Pekkanen

An excerpt from The American Connection: Profiteering and Politicking in the "Ethical" Drug Industry by John Pekkanen, a look at the United States drug abuse problem with prescription drugs.


About the book: There is in this country a vast "gray market" of drug abuse made up of average people addicted to prescription drugs. Pekkanen's book details how the big drug companies, with their enormous advertising budgets and a core of Washington lobbyists, join forces with druggist and doctor to keep the American public well supplied with amphetamines, barbiturates, and tranquilizers.

From the book: Contrary to their accepted image and contrary to what the public rightfully expects, doctors often know very little about the drugs they are prescribing. . . . So who does the doctor rely on? He relies to some extent on what his colleagues tell him, on articles in medical journals when he gets time to read them, on the Physician's Desk Reference, which lists current drugs and their indications, but in which the information is written by the drug companies. But most of all, if we are to believe the doctors themselves, he relies on the detail men, those ambassadors of good will from the drug industry who sell their drugs to doctors door-to-door like Fuller sells brushes. In an AMA-sponsored study in the 1950s taken in Fond du Lac, Wis., it was disclosed that 68% of the doctors there were dependent on detail men for their drug information. Here is how one detail man describes his job. . . . He complains that his fellow detail men have little if any background in the field; "English and education majors most of them," he says. He points to some of the sale projections on the computer readout. "Look at those numbers go up. It's selling, just selling," he says. . . .

"I'd say," he continues, "the average salary for a detail man where I work is about $15,000 and if you've been there a while about $20,000. But you've also got a company car and a great medical plan. But of course this doesn't include the deals you can make." The deals? "A lot of us started out in this business as idealists. I thought I was going to serve humanity by learning about medicine and getting it to people. Well, that doesn't last long. You're corrupted by the system very quickly, by the drugstores and by the doctors. The druggists are after you all the time to see what you can give them. They want your samples so they can sell them at retail and it's all profit for them. I've given a druggist a big supply of free samples and then made a $10,000 sale to him. We both come out ahead."

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