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"Powerful Medicines" - by Jerry Avorn

Profiteeering pharmaceutical companies and the FDA have met their match in Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical school researcher and clinician. In Powerful Medicines, he brilliantly combines patient vignettes, scientific critique, and statistics to create a risk/benefit balance for prescription drugs. His premise: "Every drug is a triangle with three faces--representing the healing it can bring, the hazards it can inflict and the economic impact of each." Avorn's gifts as a writer are apparent in the prologue, an edgy account of the mismanaged medications of several stroke patients. He then details the intellectual history of drug assessment and benefits, including the biblical food police in the Book of Daniel, the deer in the headlights Estrogen debacle and the current infatuation with Ginseng and other alternative medicines. Turning from benefits to risks, Avorn examines diet pills, Viagra, cold medicines and diabetes drugs with comparisons the decisions of Dr. Fautus--who makes life-changing bargains between safety and effectiveness. Other insightful chapters offer views of prescription drug economies, and comparative healthcare around the globe. The final chapters create an insightful template for emerging public policy. Throughout, Avorn pulls at common threads: the line between personal and public responsibility, the perils of drug promotion, and the marketplace that usurps the role of scientific evidence in selecting treatments. Anyone looking for a quick muckraking read will be disappointed. But Avorn's views, literate and complex, will frame the debate on prescription drugs for years to come. --Barbara Mackoff


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