TWO doctors who say in a new best-selling book that half of all drugs prescribed in France are "useless" or "dangerous" have been attacked by fellow doctors who accuse them of painting the whole profession as "charlatans".
Professors Bernard Debré and Philippe Even say that the health service could prevent up to 20,000 deaths, 100,000 hospital admissions and save €10billion a year if it stopped prescribing medicines such as cholesterol-lowering statins.
Their guide to 4,000 useful, useless and dangerous drugs - Guide des 4 000 médicaments utiles, inutiles ou dangereux - has already sold 200,000 copies and is already on its third reprint.
They denounce statins as "completely useless" and say that 56 common drugs are either "useless" or have a higher risk from using them than any benefit. They say these drugs should be "withdrawn in the interests of patients, no matter the industrial impact or the effect on jobs".
The list includes drugs against cancer and osteoporosis drug, anti-malarial drugs used to fight muscular cramps, anti-Parkinsons drugs, anti-depressants, drugs against diabetes and heart disease, anti-coagulants, anti-inflammatories and drugs to beat tobacco addiction.
Debré and Even say one respiratory stimulant does "less good than a cup of coffee and is much more dangerous".
However, leading doctors have lined up to attack their claims, calling them "scandalous and dangerous" (Prof Michel Marre, president, Société Francophone du Diabète), based on "feeble proof" (Gérard Raymond, president, Association Française des Diabétiques), "in flagrant contradiction of accepted scientific data" (Prof Gérard Helft, Institut de cardiologie, La Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris), and "terribly false" (Prof Éric Brucker (Endocrinologie department, La Pitié-Salpêtrière).
GPs' group Union Nationale des Omnipraticiens Français said that "for a little media glory" Debré and Even had caused anxiety for the most vulnerable patients.
The head of the ANSM drug safety agency, Dominique Maraninchi, said that the 900-page book had scared sick people who were taking drugs which were doing them good. He said drugs were under constant surveillance as to their effectiveness and the agency would publish its own database on drugs at the start of next year.
Debré and Even's book comes in the wake of the Mediator scandal, where a diabetes drug was used as a slimming aid and was later blamed for up to 2,000 deaths from heart problems. The maker, Servier, is the manufacturer whose name appears most often on the book's list.
France spends more than €35bn on medicine each year, more than €500 for each man, woman and child, and Even said in an interview that in the UK spending was less than €350 per person yet people had the "same life expectancy of around 80 years and are no less healthy".