She admits it. Gwen Olsen spent fifteen years as a sales representative for the pharmaceutical industry. In the video below, she tells it like it is. She admits that drug companies aren’t in the business of finding cures. They’re in the business of symptom management. That’s because if they found a cure for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or mental disorders, they’d be putting themselves out of business. Their goal is to keep you buying their drugs, preferably for life.
Why? Because that’s how they make money.
Ah. Honesty. It’s such a rare thing these days. In her mind-blowing book, Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher, Olsen tells her story beginning with her life as a drug representative, her own foray into mental illness and psychiatric drugs, and ultimately the tragedy that befell her teenage niece — a young woman who committed suicide by setting herself on fire, ending her tortured life as a victim of the adverse effects of prescription drugs.
Gwen’s story is the story of awakening, of hard-won truths, and of integrity. In the following passage from Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher, she reveals her first true moral quandary as a pharmaceutical sales rep:
Out of all of the drugs I had sold over the years in various specialties, the only drug that ever really challenged my moral ethics was Haldol, particularly Haldol decanoate. This was the “Big Daddy” of all neuroleptics. It made me cringe while learning about this newest form of Haldol during the launch meeting when I envisioned the possible torture in store for some patients. As I indicated earlier, patient non-compliance was a fairly common drawback with Haldol treatment. The side effects of neuroleptic drugs can be absolutely unbearable.
As a hospital rep, I would frequently see institutionalized patients pacing frantically back and forth in waiting rooms, hallways, and outside in foyers. Some would literally wear the soles off of their house shoes. Others would fall sound asleep prostrate on the ground, wherever they were when the drug’s sedative effects hit. Patients frequently drooled, sat staring into space, experienced facial grimacing, or continually made pill-rolling motions between their thumbs and forefingers. I soon realized many of the bizarre behaviors and movements I had previously identified with schizophrenia and other mental illness were entirely the fault of the medications the patients were taking. They were not a manifestation of these disorders.
Once, I encountered a twelve-year-old boy in the emergency room who had taken his grandmother’s medication. His eyes had rolled into the back of his head and locked there. This is known as an oculogyric crisis. However, where my heart really went out was to the poor, little elderly patients in the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, the nursing homes, and the psychiatric wards. They seemed to suffer the most on Haldol. I heard constant reports about excessive dry mouth, blurry vision, painful constipation, and urinary retention. (Nurses even complained about fecal impacts associated with chronic neuroleptic use.) These side effects are known as anticholinergic effects, and my training had actually consisted of a little rhyme to assist me in learning them. It went, “Patients on Haldol can’t see, can’t spit, can’t pee, and can’t shit.”
Reps were instructed to minimize these side effects by encouraging the doctor to simply administer an anticholinergic drug simultaneously with Haldol. Still, the most dreaded side effect by patients and doctors alike remained akathisia. A patient with agitated akathisia could not only be self-injurious, but was also a danger to other patients and staff.
These observations led me to question the medical prudence and moral ethics behind giving a long-acting, irreversible neuroleptic like Haldol decanoate, especially because Haldol was documented to have a huge potential to cause negative side effects. Once this drug was on board and a patient reacted to it, there was absolutely nothing doctors could do except give additional drugs to manage the side effects while the patient rode out the three weeks the injection was intended to last. Of course, three weeks was only the half-life of the drug. There would be remaining drug residual for some time after that.
The company’s position was that the untreated schizophrenic patient is a threat to society and himself. Traditional oral medications could not ensure patient compliance in the absence of an institutional setting. With larger numbers of mental health patients being forced into outpatient settings such as MHMR facilities, there seemed to be a real, perceived need for this extended release form of Haldol. Hence, the product managers argued the benefits outweighed the risks, particularly when you considered one of the benefits was that Haldol decanoate would enjoy an exclusive patent whereas the old haloperidol was available generically and sold at a significant cost reduction. Not only did Haldol decanoate ensure patient compliance, it ensured corporate longevity as well.
Watch the video.
Why you should read the book.
I’ve been a pharmacist since 1971 and I vividly recall a conversation I once had with a drug salesman (called detail man at the time). He explained that his goal was to sell a certain number of dollars worth of one particular drug. He stated that he didn’t care whether he sold one pill or a million, as long as the price worked out to his goal. That conversation has stuck with me for over two decades because it was at that moment that I first realized my perception of the drug companies was far different from what people in that industry believed.
Perhaps I was naive, but during pharmacy school and years of work at a large county hospital, I found that I actually believed my profession was honorable and that I was part of a giant team focused on helping people be healthy and get well when illness struck. This was surely the ideal in school, and I assumed things actually operated that way.
Gwen Olsen’s book is exactly as the title says, a CONFESSION. She has done a clear, masterful job describing how she unwittingly lived through the horrors of a harmful, dysfunctional family and found herself enmeshed in an industry where she was expected to make sales at any cost. Concern for an ill person was not part of her work paradigm.
The author not only lived through the personal and business issues but exited from both, apparently still intact. After my first reading of “Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher”, I described it to friends as terrifying and almost sickening. That description remains valid. More important than the story is the reports of experience, learning, and growth that shaped this author into a perfect spokesperson for all of us who find ourselves in direct opposition to the antics of the drug companies. If I hadn’t had direct experience with the issues Olsen describes in her book, I might think she was engaged in fiction, not reporting fact. Sadly, she’s right on track. Her tale is still terrifying, but you should read it – maybe more than once. You may begin to understand that it has never been the intent of any drug maker to improve health. Instead, their goal has always been to maximize profits at the expense of health.
If you or your loved ones are enslaved to pharmaceutical drugs, you will want to read this book! Unlike other books that try to tackle the same subject, this one shines like a light in the darkness because of its unflinching honesty. Gwen’s ability to expose her personal journey to such scrutiny, to share it with such precision and empathy, and to act with integrity in the face of her discoveries is nothing short of amazing.
It’s on sale for the shockingly low price of $10.06! The Kindle version of the book sells at an easily accessible $4.62.