Chloresterol-lowering statins were a conspicuous example of the drugs industry over-hyping a product to avert heart attacks, even though they could do more harm than good, said Donald Light, sociologist and professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, U.S.
Drug corporates hyped-up patented medicines, spent astronomical sums on getting doctors to prescribe them and underplayed serious side-effects, reports the Telegraph.
Light said data from independent reviewers suggested that five out of six (85 per cent) of new drugs provided few, if any, new benefits.
When the "toxic side effects" of prescription drugs were taken into account, and their misuse, they were "a significant cause of death", he claimed.
With statins, he said drugs companies had boiled down a complex set of relationships between heart disease and saturated fats and cholesterol into the over-simplistic message that "cholesterol kills".
Yet two major trials of statins found little evidence they reduced the risk of heart attacks. One major meta-analysis of a number of studies, found that "statins were not associated with reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality", he said.
Light told the American Sociological Association: "Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side-effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs' benefits.
Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs."
Light accused companies of swamping drugs regulators with large numbers of "incomplete, partial, sub-standard clinical trials".
"The result is that drugs get approved without anyone being able to know how effective they really are or how much serious harm they will cause," he said.
Pharmaceutical industry critic, Jeb Dawson says "a very small percentage of new drugs on the market are stated as effective only because the studies are completed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves."
When patients complained of adverse reactions, studies showed doctors were likely to dismiss them, he said.