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International Socialism, January 1976


Bryan Rees

There’s Gold in Them Thar Pills


From International Socialism, No.85, January 1976, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


There’s Gold in Them Thar Pills
Alan Klass
Penguin Special, 75p.

We swallow millions of pills each day. Some are good for us, but, if Alan Klass is right, the majority are no good to us at all, and some are positively dangerous.

Most of the pills we force down our throats are for complaints which, at the time, are very real to the victim-coughs, streaming colds, aches, pains, and nervous tension. But it turns out that the body has its own mechanisms for dealing with these, and all the pills and potions in the world won’t do much for them. There is, after all, no cure for the common cold.

But, surprise, surprise, by far the largest proportion of research and effort in the drug industry goes into precisely that area of illness which doesn’t need extensive medication. That’s where the profits are, in that almost unlimited market for ‘cures’ of coughs and colds. There isn’t a big profit in multiple sclerosis research or cancer research, so it doesn’t get done – it’s left to the charities.

And it is precisely because profit is the dominant factor in the drug industry that ‘unfortunate accidents’ occur – murder would be a more accurate description. For example, take a hormone drug called diethyl stilboestrol (DES). This is given to cows because it makes them put on weight, and makes bigger profits for the farmers. When the cows are killed and the meat eaten, minute traces of DES enter the human body and stay there. Now if a pregnant mother eats this meat, nothing will happen to her. But if she has a baby girl, there is a chance that when the child grows up, she will contract cancer of the vagina, because of DES. They still feed DES to cows because there’s money in it for the farmer and the drug company. And just think the drug company who maimed your daughter will like as not make the pain-killers and tranquillisers she will take before and after the inevitable operation – not very pleasant, but that’s business!

This little book is full of information like that which is presented in an easy, if clichéd, style. But it falls down badly on how to deal with the ‘medical-industrial complex’.

Klass thinks that it is up to individual doctors to bring the complex to its knees by not prescribing branded drugs, by cutting down on prescriptions in general, and by refusing to support medical journals which carry drug adverts. He also thinks drug advertising should be banned altogether.

‘If enough individual doctors revolt in this non-violent manner, the industrial-medical complex will wither. The industry may be induced to re-examine the direction of its research and there may be less aggressive promotion of new pills. There may be a reduction in profits ...’

I fear the industrial-medical complex is a hardier beast. No amount of ‘non-violent protest’ will curb the power of the drug companies – the experience of the thalidomide children at the hands of Distillers rammed home that lesson. Only when health workers – doctors, nurses, ancillaries – get together, as organised workers in their industry will the drug companies and their placemen be rooted out and smashed. It was said once, and it bears repeating, that the sick society we live in does not need well-meaning men in white coats, but rather a vast army of men and women in overalls, all wielding scalpels. It will be a bloody job, and somehow Alan Klass, the consultant, will not want to be part of that.

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