cover image Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America

Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America

Gerald Posner. Avid Reader, $35 (816p) ISBN 978-1-5011-5189-7

Journalist Posner (God’s Bankers) chronicles the historical abuses of the American pharmaceutical industry in this sprawling jeremiad. Beginning in the mid-19th century, when the Mexican-American and Civil Wars caused “an unprecedented surge for antiseptics and painkillers,” Posner explains how the addictive nature of opiate-based remedies and lack of government oversight benefitted pharmaceutical pioneers. The race to develop and manufacture penicillin during WWII and the granting of the first antibiotic patent in 1948 launched an era of “wonder drugs” that produced huge profits and drove changes in the way drugs were sold and marketed. Posner places Arthur Sackler, a psychiatrist and medical advertising executive, at the forefront of those developments, documenting his contributions to the groundbreaking rollout of Pfizer’s Terramycin antibiotic in 1951; his purchase of drugmaker Purdue Frederick Company; and his tangles with the FBI (for alleged links to Soviet spies) and Congress (for deceptive advertising practices) in the 1960s. Under the leadership of Arthur’s nephew, Richard Sackler, Purdue developed and aggressively promoted the painkiller OxyContin in the 1990s, and its rampant overprescription, high dosage recommendations, and easily bypassed “extended release shell” significantly contributed to the opioid crisis. Posner’s research impresses, but the blizzard of details often proves more disorienting than enlightening. This door stopper yields damning revelations but would benefit from a sharper focus. (Mar.)