Tough Pills to Swallow

A New Jersey health-policy professor asks big questions of Big Pharma. —Mehry Sabet

Getty Images

Getty Images

Few would dispute the fact that we’re a medicated nation: Four in five adults and about half of all children take at least one prescription pill a week. But just how necessary those drugs are, and whether drug companies exist to promote wellness or turn profits, is a matter of ever-hotter debate.

Stoking the fire is Donald Light, a professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of ?New Jersey, who will be lecturing at BU’s Barrister Hall on April 23. Citing health and PR disasters like Vioxx, the prescription painkiller that may have claimed about 58,000 lives, The Risks of Prescription Drugs author is a critic of the pharmaceutical industry and the relationships drug producers have with doctors. “Prescription drugs that we take to get better have become a major cause of accidents and hospitalization,” Light says. “They are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.”

Expect Light to attack the financial and ethical conflicts of interest in the prescription-med industry, which he says lead companies to push drugs while downplaying evidence of harmful side effects. “Patients may reasonably expect the FDA and their physician to protect them from risk,” he writes in his book. “But in fact, both pass significant risk on to their patients.” We’re betting you won’t see any Cymbalta ads on the back of the lecture program.

By the Numbers:

  • 12 is the average number of U.S. retail prescriptions filled per person in 2010.
  • $220,338,509,960 is the total U.S. retail sales for prescription drugs filled at pharmacies in 2010.

Sourced from