Pharmageddon is the story of a tragedy

In 1962 a sleeping pill called thalidomide caused a horrific drug disaster whose emblematic images of limbless and handicapped babies born to distraught mothers linger to this day.The United States Congress swung into action. They wanted to prevent such a tragedy happening again. They were also determined to rein in the marketing excesses of the pharmaceutical industry.Three steps were taken.

First, new drug development was rewarded with product rather than process patents. Second, new drugs were made available on a prescription only basis. Third, new drugs had to prove they worked through controlled trials before they could be marketed.

In 1962 it looked like these steps would make for safer and more effective drugs and ultimately reduced healthcare costs.

In 1962 it looked like these steps would make for safer
and more effective drugs and reduced healthcare costs.

On the 50th anniversary of the 1962 FDA bill enacted by Congress, Pharmageddon shows how these very arrangements have led to an escalating number of drug induced death and injury, how in some areas of medicine drug induced death is the commonest form of death, and how the costs of treating these problems exceed the costs of the entire drugs budget.

Medicine and the marketers

Pharmageddon also shows how these same changes have turbo-charged pharmaceutical industry marketing. The horrors are best caught by the example of the increasing numbers of pregnant women who religiously steer clear of alcohol, tobacco, soft cheeses, or anything that might harm their unborn child, but who are nonetheless being urged by their doctors to take drugs like the antidepressants — now the most commonly prescribed drugs in pregnancy — even as the evidence accumulates that these drugs cause birth defects, double the rate of miscarriages, and cause mental handicap in children born to mothers who have been taking them.

Pregnant women who religiously steer clear of alcohol, tobacco, soft cheeses, or
anything that might harm their unborn child are urged by their doctors to take antidepressants.

This example of a shepherding of innocents into pharmaceutical killing fields is not an isolated incident. Life expectancy in the US, the country that consumes most of the latest life-saving drugs is falling rapidly compared to the rest of the world. For diseases like schizophrenia, we are now doing 10 times worse in terms of life expectancy than we were 100 years ago.

Not even the FDA has access to the data.

The means to protect ourselves from a recurrence of the thalidomide disaster have been our undoing. Product patents gave an incentive to pharmaceutical companies to produce blockbuster drugs — drugs that were so valuable to a company and its survival that the incentives to breach regulations and hide any safety data that might be inconvenient for the company are so huge that entire trials are hidden, that almost all trials are ghostwritten to ensure the data looks right, and no one, not even the FDA, has access to the data.

The eclipse of care

Prescription-only status has made a small number of doctors the conduit for prescription drugs, and company marketing can concentrate on these few consumers and understand them better than they understand themselves. Doctors claim to be shielded by guidelines and evidence based medicine from company marketing — seemingly unaware that companies are now the most enthusiastic advocates of guidelines and evidence based medicine.

Prescription-only arrangements mean that doctors have
to give us diseases if they want to give us pills.

In order to move the product, prescription-only arrangements also mean that doctors have to give us diseases if they want to give us pills and as a result we are all becoming more and more diseased than ever before.

Stockholm Syndrome

After a bank raid in Sweden in 1973, it was recognized that isolation, a threat to life, and the kindness of captors can lead to Stockholm Syndrome.  Stockholm Syndrome is exactly what prescription-only arrangements impose on patients and doctors.

No medical school on the planet offers training on how to handle Stockholm Syndrome.

It is the reason doctors fail to recognize that adverse events happening to their patients even though these are now in the fourth leading cause of death and how they rarely intervene to save their patients.  No medical school on the planet offers training on how to handle Stockholm Syndrome.

Doctoring the data

Clinical trials were introduced as the eye of a needle through which the financial camel that is pharmaceutical industry would have to squeeze if it wanted to get drugs on the market and make money. These trials would establish if drugs worked and would lead to a clear recognition of their hazards. But we have been led badly astray. The most extraordinary symbol of just how badly lies in the fact that the one drug that had been through a controlled trial before it was supposed to be marketed in which it had been shown to be safe and effective was … thalidomide. This is the system on which we now depend to avoid future drug disasters.

More than 90% of all clinical trials are now run by private companies…

Once put in place, industry took over the running of trials. More than 90% of all clinical trials are now run by private companies, which organize ethical approval through other private companies and outsource the trials to parts of the world where oversight is minimal. The results, sometimes stemming from patients who don’t exist, are fed back to the parent companies coded in a manner that often causes problems to vanish. Those trials and their results that suit company marketing agendas are then written up by ghostwriters and published in the leading medical journals — even though the editors know what is happening and the lives they are putting at risk by publishing these articles.

… which are then written up by ghostwriters and published in the leading
medical journals — even though the editors know what is happening .

Far from making drugs safer, trials are now being used by industry to conceal the risks that drugs entail. They are part of a system to deny any side effects could be happening. Here’s how. If something goes wrong on a drug, industry claims that no one can link the drug to the problem unless a clinical trial has shown there is a statistically significant link. And everyone buys this — so that even when serious problems happen on a drug and clear up when the drug is stopped and reappear if the drug is reintroduced, industry can deny a link and can expect regulators and academics to line up behind them. They repeatedly agree their drug causes problems in private but deny it in public. As far as industry are concerned, we and our problems have become anecdotal.

There is a solution

Pharmageddon offers a range of solutions to these problems, one of which is an adverse event reporting website for patients — — which encourages doctors and patients to believe the evidence of their own eyes and have the courage to make a linkage between treatments and problems.

Reviews of Pharmageddon

“This meticulously documented book makes extraordinary claims with far-reaching intellectual and practical ramifications. It is the most powerful critique of the contemporary medical-industrial complex that I know.”—Andrew T. Scull, author of Hysteria andMadness: A Very Short Introduction

“This book shines a bright light on the pharmaceutical industry (and American healthcare) in the same way that Silent Spring called out the chemical industry and Unsafe at Any Speed called out the automobile industry. Pharmageddon is Healy’s most important book to date. It will make a real contribution toward healing our sick system of pharmaceutical-driven medicine and helping doctors provide better care for their patients.”–Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, author of The Estrogen Elixir and On the Pil

“In this startling book, David Healy argues that ‘evidence-based’ medicine—and a healthy dose of corrupt science—has led modern medicine off a cliff. His book is provocative, challenging, and informative, and ultimately it serves as a powerful manifesto for rethinking modern medicine.”–Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

“Like a good detective story, Pharmageddon weaves together the history of modern medicine, the evolution of clinical trials and statistical analyses, changes in international patent laws, privatization of clinical research, blurring of the line between academics and industry, and the enabling role of medical journals. If you want to learn how to protect yourself (or your patients) from medical commercialism and how medical practice can be re-directed back toward its true mission, this book is a must read.”—John Abramson, author of Overdosed America


See review in Deviant by Frank van Meerendonk




  1. Kate MacFarlane says:

    Hi David
    I received news of your blog, etc. because I approached you about reading my draft for a personal memoir about my childhood spent within the grounds of Ingutsheni Mental Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where my father practised as a psychiatrist from 1953-1971. I have put my book on hold for a while as I found researching it just so incredibly upsetting. The conditions at the hospital were atrocious, the patients treated there were subject to experimentation and my father himself suffered from a psychosis! I would dearly love to read your book. I work with a psychotherapist in order to come to terms with the trauma of my childhood. I gave her a copy of Rebekkah Beddoes book which has opened a discussion for us with regard to the boundaries which exist between doctors and their patients. GP’s have really very little grasp about what it means to be a human being in distress nor how helpful it is to speak with a kind, supportive professional therapist. The use of drugs is anathema to this process and I count myself incredibly lucky that I have only had recourse to take anti-depresssants once and even then for a very brief period of time. Your work is very timely indeed. I would urge you to have a look at the work of Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks in the USA as well as Dorothy Rowe in this country.
    I wish you a great deal of success as you are a very courageous man.
    Best wishes
    Kate MacFarlane

    • PsychMedsAlmostKilledMeAndMyFamily says:

      I have similar feelings. I’m presently reading, “Pharmageddon” but before I started reading it I was worried that learning more about the problem would cause me to be more angry than I already was. I was right. I’m more angry and I’ve only read a fraction of the entire book. Where do I put the anger?

      Sometimes, I get so angry I think I want to kill ALL the drug company CEOs of the world. Luckily, I saw the light and stopped taking SSRIs so I’m 10 times less likely to to act on that impulse. Isn’t that ironic? Even though I’m more angry, and justifiably so, than I’ve ever been in my life, I’m 10 times less likely to hurt the people who have caused so much pain to me and countless other people.

  2. David,
    I read your site with enormous gratitude. Has everyone gone mad, or just died of apathy? I got your link though stumbling across Dr Yolande Lucire’s site in my country (Australia), after ministering to my 52 year old “bipolar” sister tonight for the thousandth time.
    Last year I went on an extensive web search for help and found the ‘survivors of Psychiatry’ movement in the States and some British sites, but sweet FA in Australia. Sometimes I feel that even I am going mad, trying to find help that does not involve the revolving door of blank-faced drug-bots in “professional mental health service provider” agencies, because here, there just isn’t any. If you’re poor, that is.
    The divine irony is that for people like my sister, they are so “drug-raped” that of course they’re on welfare. Strangely, all those lovely therapists with flower-strewn, feel-good websites charge a pensioner’s weekly dole for a couple of hours’ work. Call me stingy but it DON’T ADD UP!
    She is worse than ever courtesy of Lithium, Risperidone et al, and sometimes, despite my Pollyanna act in her presence, I think that it would be a relief if the drugs claimed her totally. She’s like the walking dead, and she has it administered by a fat bastard with a drinker’s nose, who calls himself a GP, and who makes sixty bucks every time she walks through the door. Multiply it by thousands and it makes you wanna throw up already!

    On a lighter note, I have just turned 50, and I’m happy to celebrate a life with all my limbs intact, thanks to a REAL doctor who did his homework, and refused my mother’s pleas for Thalidomide while I was waiting to be born. Hurray! I will contact Dr Lucire soon – can’t believe I didn’t find her last year. A million thanks for your bravery and whatever you do, KEEP GOING!

    With many thanks,

    PS You may consider adding links to your site for desperate internationals like me. Suggestions? Dan Mackler, Dr Breggin, Mary O’ Hagan (New Zealand), Beyond Meds, Dr Daniel Dorman, and all the others in the ‘Survivor’ movement.

    • Deirdre Oliver says:

      Celie, My name is Deirdre Oliver. I only just found this site. I live in Melbourne and am searching, without much luck for fellow dissidents. My big beef is ECT but basically and eventually the entire bio-psychiatric `profession’. I have also been in touch with overseas researchers and like-minded people and groups. I’ve been in touch with Peter Breggin (I have an idea for a study with ECT), Dr Colin Ross, (US) Professor Leslie van Daarlen-Smith, Don Weitz and Bonnie Burstow (Canada), Dr Lucy Johnstone and Professor Angela Gilchrist, (UK).
      I need help. I have several ideas for research, I want to set up teams of dissidents to sit-in, to hand out pamphlets, and to generally publicise the appalling medical abuse that the `mentally ill’ have to suffer.
      Where are you living? Could you contact me via email? DEE

    • I know this post is from 2012, but have you heard about Dr. Niall McLaren? He is in Australia and does not use drugs to treat mental illness. His book is called The Biocognitive Model for Psychiatry.

  3. I am most concerned with the tremendous number of young people – teenagers – who are on anti-depressants for virtually normal problems of living. We dont seem to provide our children with the healthy natural coping strategies that we older people had after World War 11. This reliance on drugs to cope with ordinary psychological problems is weakening to one’s self-esteem and ability to cope and laugh things off and put life’s problems in perspective. I see a correlation with the increase in nasty bullying too in the schools and on social outlets such as ‘facebook’ and the reliance on anti-depressants. Why not take an anti-depressant because it’s raining again and not always sunny??! I spent a summer in Mali, the Sahara desert, with a Canadian volunteer group helping Africans build a field hospital. Despite no running water, electricity, medicine, telephone, TV, internet, or psychiatric drugs, the adults and children were resilient and invariably calm, optimistic and somewhat fatalistic as well. No Prozac available! The children were amazingly happy and self-reliant, with so little material things! This is a Western crisis, brought on by greed in the pharmaceutical industry. Though I’m grateful for drugs that save people’s lives medically, (my own including during a heart attack!)I always felt psychiatry was to operate on a different level – of the psyche. The African shaman in the Savanah grasslands of the Sahara seemed to do a good job as far as I could see. I admire Dr Healy, he is most courageous. I live in Toronto, and many of us followed events with ‘shock and awe’ when he had his career nixed. It was stunning and definitely shaming to Canada, as was the air of secrecy that surrounded it for a long time. Da iawn, Dai bach (I originally come from The Mumbles, Swansea.)

  4. David

    Is your life worth a $trillion? That is the turnover you are threatening and, if you continue to stand on a hillock silhuetted against the skyline, they will pick you off. I am sure you are aware you need public support; and quick; and this will not be achieves by a book which will not be promoted by the media. The politically active public is represented by a multitude of grassroots movements, which operate conjointly but loosely, and in the US are best represented as the Occupy Movement, whose mentors understand the nature of the power base you threaten. But linking with these people is difficult. You can, however, access a website that combines the principles of Occupy, information about the influence of corporate power on governments; a range of people power solution options; and soon even, an article on the links between vaccines, antibiotics, gut flora, and autism spectrum disorders/brain damage; with possible implications for psychological illnesses. There is no obligation; just visit and read: and good luck. Your courage is admired.

  5. Judith M.L. Day says:

    David, I have been following your work for years now and spoke to you in person a few years ago when you lectured at UNB, Fredericton on this subject. I had my own hell for a few years in the early nineties when I was given psychotropic drugs and developed neuro-toxicity due to them, which resulted in permanent damage. I tried to sue the physicians with medical malpractice, but that is impossible here in Canada, once you are involved with psychiatry. I am a survivor and have have written my story in a book Judging Judi, available at

  6. Veronica Morin says:

    Do not have Epilepsy – so I should not be prescribed have Depakote.
    Do not have Migraines – so I should not have been prescribed Topomax.

    • I have epilepsy and took sodium valproate (EPILIM, DEPAKOTE) while pregnant. My Son has FACS and is disabled for life. #FACSaware is the name of a campaign. Anyone seeking support for their children and wanting to see governmental action to prevent suffering and improve lives please contact me. best wishes. 18th June 2014, meeting in UK parliament, chaired by Alec Shelbrooke MP to discuss raising awareness of FACS and Sodium Valproate use during pregnancy.

  7. good work

  8. My mom’s ENT doctor lent her your book, telling her to lend it to as many others as she could. It was a hard read for me at first, reading like a textbook, really, as it is meant to, but I found it easier as I went along. WOW. I can’t say I’m that surprised, & where I am someone who no longer puts any stock in vaccines for my Autistic child, it’s no wonder with the drug companies being behind advocating so many of these things! At the expense of our children’s health, I might add! Great book that I am recommending to everyone who has half a brain to think for themselves. I’ve never been trusting of doctors anyway, & knew they were kinda “brainwashed” anyway. I figure I get a diagnosis and then I will decide the course of action!

  9. Deirdre Oliver says:

    Isn’t it interesting that government health bodies, worldwide, moved so quickly onto a drug that was only bad news for the first trimester fetus? What percentage of the population was that? Don’t get me wrong, the drug companies should have done extensive animal studies which would have shown up its tetrogenic properties. If they did and didn’t tell, or if they didn’t do it, it was massively criminal. However for the vast bulk of the people, including males, pre-pubescent children and post menopausal women, thalidomide was a very good anti-emetic. So why does NO government move to protect the 60-100% of ECT survivors who get brain damage from the treatment. A ridiculously high percentage suffer permanent and serious intellectual/cognitive dysfunction. A ridiculously high percentage have to go on welfare because they can no longer work at their jobs. A ridiculously high percentage suffer severe psychological problems because of ECT. A ridiculously high percentage have their lives are made far worse by the treatment. A ridiculously high percentage of people have suffered from a treatment that was never appropriate in the first place, if the assault of ECT could ever be appropriate. I don’t know as much about the drugs as I do about ECT but the same thing applies. 25 years off your life span, cerebral atrophy, tardive dyskanesia and other movement disorders, plus having to double up on drugs to try to control these, often futile. These are not only dreadful consequences but worse, the sufferer is often forced by law to take them! Why is the law then, not protecting the public as it does in ALL other cases. The drug companies, whilst they often try to slip past the watchdogs, must hand over some safety information, but the manufacturers of the ECT machines, (completely different from the original `grandfathered’ machines as any shock doc will tell you, which means they are totally illegal), have never had to provide ANY safety info whatsoever.
    The FDA which stopped the ECT machines being declared safe in 2011, classing it as Class III which `requires’ by law, that the industry perform safety testing. Four years later these tests have not been done. WHY? Why is it different for treatments and drugs used for the `mentally ill’? Why are we not protected from dangerous treatments by our own government medical watchdogs? In Australia these machines are classified as safe as a condom! NO tests done.) My fear is that, in spite of the ever growing evidence clearly demonstrating the dangers of most current psychiatric treatments, the shock docs are mounting a campaign to have another go. They have the money and the morals necessary, and they surely want to hang on the $15,000 a week minimum for doing ECT here in Australia. I believe that while those of us are very, very aware of the issues the public still don’t know. We write articles and letters, we go on line to each other, we collect research until, like me, they know almost everything there is to know, including all the arguments the docs can throw at us, we hold meetings, hand out pamphlets, rewrite information brochures, but THE PUBLIC STILL DON’T KNOW! Right now our Mental Health Act (Victoria, Australia), has, after psychiatric consultation via the RANZCP, removed, all age limits on children for ECT. The protests are too little too late. The government believes authority, if the docs say it, it must be true. I despair at times. How do you argue with a belief system that has a long tradition of refusing to entertain the facts? How do you argue with people whose arrogance is such that they are the only people who know how YOU feel? I’m 71, I hope I can live long enough to bring these people down. Deeeo

  10. Perhaps a brief explanation of what FACS stands for and a brief descriptor of the condition may cast the net a little wider, perhaps reach some individuals who are yet to have a diagnosis? Just a thought, bless.

  11. kate bazner says:

    Despite the fact that there’s absolutely NO relief on the horizon for detoxing off the DEMON CYMBALTA, I am greatly relieved that there is a growing number of international victims ( mistakenly referred to as “patients) have their fingers directly on the pulse ( unfortunately their own) of the Big Pharma Problem. None of us ha. d any reason to fear a drug recommended by a trusted physician. Perhaps we had known him for years. Now, doctor after doctor, hospital after clinic etc. treat us as if we were mentally ill. We’re “imagining ” symptoms.One long time dermatologist actually asked me if i thought i was possessed by evil spirits. I burst out laughing!! I stopped going to doctors after that. Why should I pay for abuse? I’m actually making some headway, but it’s a long long road, and a lonely one at that. Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer, and yeah, as the newsman in a movie once said ” I’m mad as hell, and i’m not gonna take it any more!!

  12. PsychMedsAlmostKilledMeAndMyFamily says:

    I just purchased the Kindle edition of your book and I look forward to reading it. Before I do that, I feel compelled to comment.

    I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1979 at the age of 18. I’m a high-functioning schizophrenic so I’ve been able to cope with my illness without medications for most of my life. In 2006 I had a psychotic break and I was treated with anti-psychotic meds which was an appropriate use of medication at the time. After coming back to reality the psychiatrist suggested I take moderate doses of anti-psychotic medication as a preventative treatment. I thought is was good advice even though I was very familiar with the insidious side effect called akathisia. I thought it was good advice even though I had lived three decades without psychotic symptoms.

    Akathisia is a feeling that’s almost impossible to describe. Restlessness doesn’t begin to adequately describe akathisia but a ghost writer would be fired if he used the words, “it makes you want to jump out of your skin” (thank you for educating me about ghost writers. I can’t wait to read your book!)

    Mild akathisia is even more difficult to describe and it’s very insidious because the patient is unlikely to know it’s even happening. It’s insidious because mild akathisia makes the patient appear calm on the outside but on the inside something doesn’t feel quite right. Because of this, mild akathisia seems like no akathisia at all, from the doctor’s point of view. Mild akathisia is insidious because I didn’t know it was happening to me even though I was quite familiar with more severe akathisa. How could I have been fooled again? Insidious is mild akathisia.

    In 2007 I was granted a full permanent disability by the VA. 16 months of being unemployed and waiting for the VA decision was quite stressful. I continued to take the moderate doses of antipsychotic meds. I was depressed but I attributed my depression to the shame and guilt of being fired and not being able to work because of my illness.

    During those 16 months, I had suicidal thoughts often but I didn’t want to hurt the people who love me. I wondered what would happen to my wife and kids if I killed myself. It would be more than just traumatic. In my mind, I went through many bad scenarios of what would become of my family if I offed myself. My wife has no skills and she’s a shy person so I reasoned she would be broke and never find a mate to replace me. I pictured my kids becoming drug-addicted delinquents. I couldn’t go on living like this but I couldn’t leave my family to a doomed future. I thought about killing all of us……

    I still feel shame and I get emotional when I think about it. What is wrong with me? I’m a terrible person! Or so I thought. I was so ashamed of these thoughts I didn’t tell anybody about it, not even my therapist or psychiatrist. According to ghost writers, only children and young adults are likely to have these kind of thoughts while taking those meds. Perhaps it’s because grown adults are too horrified of revealing such dark thoughts.

    When the VA decision finally came about I was quite happy but that happiness didn’t last very long. I went back to feeling mildly depressed and I couldn’t figure out why. I continued to take the moderate doses of anti-psychotic meds.

    In 2008 I took my wife and kids on a great vacation: A Caribbean cruise! My wife and kids said it was the best vacation ever! For some reason unknown to me I didn’t really enjoy this vacation. I wasn’t particularly unhappy but it just wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.

    It finally dawned on me that the medication was affecting me. I stopped taking it. I immediately felt better. The next time I spoke with my therapist, I told him I had stopped taking the meds. He was not thrilled about it and he tried to talk me into taking the meds again. I tried to tell him about the negative side effects but he seems to be listening-impaired. I told him I was much happier without the meds and he said, “You’re too happy! You’re euphoric!” I replied, “Of course I’m happy! I feel like I’ve just been let out of prison!!!!!” To his credit, I was a bit manic at the time but it passed and I’ve had no symptoms of psychosis since discontinuing the medication.

    My wife knows all about this but she still doesn’t get it. She’s currently taking a combination of medications and she’s not doing well. She is presently hospitalized. Last Saturday, the second day after admission, I visited her. She looked happy for the first time in a long time. She was smiling and making eye contact and talking to me and listening when two days before she scowling and distracted and jumpy and miserable enough to seek inpatient treatment. I said to her, “You look different. You’re smiling and happy! What happened? She said, “The doctor thinks it’s akathisia and he’s reduced the dosage. She comes home today and I’m very happy right now.

    Last Saturday I wasn’t so happy. Actually, I had mixed emotions. I was happy my wife was feeling better but angry at the doctors for causing so much pain to my wife due to their willful ignorance. It was this anger that led me to search for answers and that’s how I found this website.

  13. Wendy Kaysing says:

    Just last week a woman thought to be on prescription drugs plowed her car through a group of people who were leaving a church concert in Southern California. Someone asked the driver immediately after the impact, “What did you do?” She “looked blankly” at the questioner. 3 people dead, 11 injured–five are children.
    here is the article:


  1. […] contacted us to help with this important cause. Julie and Peter Wood, along with psychiatrist and Pharmageddon author Dr. David Healy, are profiled in the Globe and Mail: Drug-risk website aimed at […]

  2. […] patients’ care. Moreover, we see examples all the time—in all medical disciplines—of the corruption of scientific data (often fueled by drug company greed) and very little improvement in patient outcomes.  Statins, […]

  3. […] 150 peer-reviewed papers in the field of psychiatry and the author of numerous books, including Pharmageddon, joined me on The Corbett Report last week to discuss this […]

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