Hager additionally dissects how the rise of large drug firms has modified medication. His critique isn’t any screed: He acknowledges, rightly, what they do effectively. As late because the 1930s, medical doctors had only a dozen medication of their armory to battle illnesses; in the present day, they’ve hundreds. He even admits a grudging admiration for drug advertising, which is very efficient.
On the similar time, he acknowledges the unhealthy. Firms scare sufferers into taking medication with marginal advantages, or conjure up wholly new illnesses (e.g., social nervousness), which then require expensive medication to “treatment.” He additionally highlights the chicanery of firms that trumpet flattering analysis whereas burying damaging research.
However the core of “Ten Medication,” the topic of three separate chapters, is opioids. Human beings have been cultivating opium for greater than 10,000 years — “earlier than cities,” Hager writes, “earlier than agriculture, earlier than science, earlier than historical past.” And opioids do kill ache, no query. The issue is, they’re frighteningly addictive, and chemists for the reason that 1800s have had no luck creating new opioids that boring ache with out creating dependency.
This work has not solely failed, it’s additionally backfired spectacularly. Just like the monster in a horror-movie franchise, every sequel — morphine, heroin, OxyContin, fentanyl — grows extra terrifying. Fentanyl, which killed Tom Petty and Prince, is 50 instances stronger than heroin, which itself is roughly twice as potent as morphine. Nonetheless extra highly effective medication await authorities approval.
For numerous causes — wealth, a damaged well being care system, a willpower to self-medicate — america has suffered extra from opioids than different nations. Though simply four.four p.c of the world’s inhabitants, Individuals devour a staggering 80 p.c of all opioids. “Opioid overdoses,” Hager notes, “kill extra Individuals than automotive accidents and gun homicides put collectively.”