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Feature Medicalisation

Ending the French love affair with drugs

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 17 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6996
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. mail{at}

A recent attack on the French pill popping culture has struck a nerve with citizens and panicked patients. Sophie Arie reports

France has long been known as a country where people take more medicines than they really need. Recently the scandal over the misuse of benfluorex (Mediator)—a diabetes drug that was widely prescribed as an appetite suppressant and that some researchers have linked to at least 500 deaths1—highlighted how dangerous this pill popping culture can be.

A new book claiming that half of all medicines on the French market are useless or harmful has sold 200 000 copies since it was published in September. The bestseller shows the French were badly in need of more information about the drugs they take, but many say the book is badly written and dangerous.

The book’s authors—Philippe Even, director of the Necker Institute, and Bernard Debré, a doctor and politician—say their Guide to 4000 Useful, Useless or Dangerous Medicines2 is based on their experience of over 40 years in the French health system and their analysis of 20 000 international research publications.

Critics argue that the authors are not experts in pharmacology—Even is a pneumologist and Debré an urologist. The authors respond that the book is not intended to be an academic study and, rather than applying a systematic methodology, it is a comparative analysis of 20 years’ of research presented for the general public. “It does not provide all the answers—it poses questions,” says Even. “We need a debate in France.”

Before writing the book Even and Debré were commissioned by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government to report on the benfluorex scandal. They subsequently decided that the scandal was the tip of an iceberg. There are many other drugs that French doctors are prescribing freely—often much more heavily than in other countries—that may …

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