Hey! Randy

Addicted Pusher

Posted by heyrandy on March 26, 2012

Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher, Gwen Olsen, 2005, 2009

In this short (148 pgs) blend of autobiography, expose, and advocacy tract, the author gives the inside story of pharmaceutical sales. Olsen tells us how doctors learn about new drugs. She also tells of her experiences as a patient taking some of those drugs.

The genesis of the book is the death of the author’s niece. A troubled girl from a very troubled family, Megan killed herself at the age of twenty. She was under psychiatric care that was primarily medication management. Olsen obtained Megan’s medical records and was surprised to see the number of medications that her niece was taking. Olsen knew the dangers of some of these drugs by her own experiences with them in treatment for postpartum depression.

One great irony is Olsen was for many years a drug sales representative. She persuaded doctors to prescribe her company’s wares. By her account she was quite successful. This experience allows Olsen to relate the inside story of the industry. It is evil. There are many great products coming from the pharmaceutical companies, but there have been lots of duds. Some were worse than duds.

Olsen has little respect for the Food and Drug Administration. She considers it a wholly owned subsidiary of the drug industry. She points to the approval of aspartame. She has a point. It is an example of capture theory. Big Pharma has big money and a big desire to spend it. If it were any more blatant it would be bribery.

Once the drug gets regulatory approval, it is a matter of getting the doctors to prescribe the drug. That was her job. She said people called her a “goodies girl.” Everywhere she went she left a trail of gifts. Most of the items were the usual promotional trinkets with the drug’s name on them. Sometimes the doctors got more expensive items such as dinners, invitations to élite affairs, free “continuing medical education” at nice locales.

After her stint as a sales representative, Olsen became a worker in the Texas state child protection system. Here she saw another side of the pharmaceutical industry: the use of psychoactive drugs on children. “For political and financial reasons most drugs are tested on white adult men.” That may bias the testing sample. but it does not stop doctors from prescribing the drugs to kids, even though the package insert says that the drug is not approved for children under 18. This is a huge problem that no one wants to discuss. There are expectations of a quick-fix by authorities (usually the schools), parents and society. It is the miracle-in-a-bottle problem. It is quick, easy and profitable. Very profitable. Too bad for the kids. Some of the drugs induce problems that are ameliorated by more drugs. The pharmaceutical companies do not object. They just cash the checks.

Olsen gives us the right advice: take charge of your own health. You will pay the price. This is what Olsen did.

I find one weakness in the book. She does not give a clear picture of the development process of new drugs. She tries to refute the idea that it cost a fortune to develop a new drug by saying that a lot of the money comes from the taxpayers via government grants, but it still cost a fortune to develop a new drug. She could also have cleared up the mystery of how companies name new drugs.


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