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Dispensing with the Truth: The Victims, the Drug Companies, and the Dramatic Story Behind the Battle over Fen-Phen 1st Edition

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312253240
ISBN-10: 0312253249
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Editorial Reviews Review

Mary Linnen, 29, was determined to lose 25 pounds before her wedding. In May 1996, her doctor prescribed a combination of drugs known as Fen-Phen. When Linnen complained of dizziness and shortness of breath 23 days after starting the medications, her doctor told her to stop the drugs--but didn't examine her or order tests. Linnen got better for a time, then the shortness of breath and exhaustion returned worse than ever. Her legs and stomach swelled. She collapsed at work. Six months after taking Fen-Phen, Linnen was admitted to the emergency room with primary pulmonary hypertension: the capillaries that sent oxygen to her lungs had thickened and were closing, suffocating her. Her survival expectation after heart surgery was less than four years. Hooked up to a tube in her chest to prevent heart failure, she died three months later.

Dispensing with the Truth: The Battle over Fen-Phen tells the story of the legal battle against the pharmaceutical companies after Fen-Phen's users started dying--some, like Linnen, of primary pulmonary hypertension; others of heart valve damage. Investigative reporter Alicia Mundy weaves a dramatic tale from the development of the drugs to FDA approval to the final litigation. How much did the pharmaceutical companies know about the risks long before most of the deaths? Plenty, according to the evidence Mundy reveals. Although at times the book seems overfilled with details that slow down the drama, if you want the complete, behind-the-scenes story of one of the most famous "profits over protection" cases, this book tells all. --Joan Price

From Publishers Weekly

H"You are going to hear about a diet pill combination that was a craze... one of the most remarkably profitable pharmaceutical undertakings in the history of the United States," said Alex MacDonald, as quoted here by Mundy, in his opening statement during the Mary Linnen case. Beginning with the death of Linnen, a young woman who took Fen-Phen for less than a month to lose a few pounds before her wedding and died of primary pulmonary hypertension less than a year later, Mundy's book reads like a medical thriller. But the story of the lives affected by the flawed obesity drug is all too true: approximately 45,000 women "were believed to have developed one of two different diseases linked to their lungs or their heart from taking the drugs"; 300,000 women were prepared to sue the manufacturer to pay for tests to determine if they were ill. Mundy, an investigative journalist and contributor to both Mediaweek and Washingtonian magazine, looks at all the players, including the victims, the resolute legal team, corporate giant Wyeth-Ayerst (the drug's maker), the elite medical community that defended it and the negligent FDA. It took the discovery of heart valve damage to force the drug off the market. The FDA knew of problems with the drug but for a variety of reasons, from bureaucratic sluggishness to cozy relationships with the pharmaceutical companies, remained silent. Mundy has turned an incredibly complex chain of events into a readable and moving narrative, reminisicent of A Civil Action, that engages the reader as it details these legal and personal battles. (May)Forecast: With so many Americans both overweight and diet-obsessed, St. Martin's is betting on a popular response to this book and is reporting a first printing of 75,000 copies. Elle and Self are giving extensive coverage to Mundy in their May issues, and a lengthy interview on NPR has been arranged. The author will be making appearances in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (May 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253240
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this book was the way it made me smile and laugh, in the midst of a story that is frightening and sad. Alicia Mundy is saucy, witty, and an incredible story teller. Reading "Dispensing with the Truth" will cause you to become furious with the drug companies, inspired by the heroic lawyers, and intrigued by the inner workings of the FDA. I felt great disappointment with the drug industry, but at the same time I was hopeful, as the author finds many rays of light. For example, one of the heroes in the book was a med tech in Fargo, North Dakota named Pam Ruff, who pursued a strange coincidence in the echocardiograms of her patients not because she thought she could profit, but because she thought she could help. And then there is the FDA's Leo Lutwak, who risked his reputation and his job to voice his dissent over the approval of the dangerous drugs. I strongly recommend this book if you are looking for a gift for a mother, a sister, a lawyer, or anyone who likes courtroom thrillers.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a good read, especially in the beginning, but if you want to go beyond the courtroom drama and the legal aspects of the case, you have to read carefully. (Taking notes wouldn't hurt.) This is a complex story, and one has to admire Alicia Mundy's skill in managing it while spinning out an engaging narrative. She succeeds by concentrating on one case, that of 29-year-old Mary Linnen, an Orchard Park, New York woman, who developed primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) after using the Fen-Phen drug combination for a mere 23 days. There is no cure for PPH, and the treatments amount to something like sustained torture. Tragically, less than a year after diagnosis, Mary Linnen was dead.
Within her story, Mundy focuses on two main characters. One is the engaging and colorful Alex MacDonald, the lead attorney representing Mary Linnen's estate, who along with many others sued American Home Products, the parent company of Wyeth-Ayerst, the distributors of Pondimin and Redux (one half of the deadly Fen-Phen diet cocktail), for wrongful death; and the other is Leo Lutwak, a well-meaning but ineffectual administrator at the Food and Drug Administration. But I think the real story here is the corporate mentality inside the drug companies that led to the tragedy, and the incompetence at the FDA that allowed it. Although I think Mundy concentrates too much on the lawyers in her narrative (she indicates in the "Acknowledgments" that she was inspired by Jonathan Harr's lawyer-centered A Civil Action), she is still able to give a complete story, but it takes some real effort on the part of the reader to get it all.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on August 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book will make you furious, and it will make you think twice (or three or four times) about the drugs you take, especially ones that have only recently been approved by the FDA. Alicia Mundy tells the story very well and has you on the edge of your seat much of the time. I'm not usually much of a one for stories of victims, lawyers, drug companies, and the FDA, but I couldn't put the book down. It reads like a thriller, and the information it contains is especially vital to anyone who has ever taken Fen-Phen. Even if you would never consider taking a diet drug, you need to learn how ineffectual the FDA has become in the face of the super-powerful drug companies. The drug companies involved knew about the serious health risks associated with these drugs and made every effort not to inform doctors and drug users about the potential dangers. Worse yet, they knew that the drug didn't work. And although they were recommending it for long-term use, they had tested it only for short-term use. This book will make you angry, and given that nearly five times as many people have died from the Fen-Phen debacle as from faulty Firestone tires, we should be angry--angry enough to get Congress to put some teeth back in the FDA so that this sort of tragedy never happens again.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Alicia Mundy has written a nail-biting medical thriller that engaged me from cover to cover. What makes it so disturbing is that it's not fiction--it's a true story! Drug companies knew they were releasing a dangerous drug, the FDA knew it was approving a potential killer, and yet fen-phen was still allowed on the market.
Everyone thinks fen-phen is old news, but that's because the drug companies tried to cover up the truth after women started dying after having heart complications. You must read this book if you've ever taken a prescription drug, if you've ever trusted the FDA to protect your health, and if you want to find out how giant pharmaceutical companies manipulate, harrass, and endanger the public in order to make a profit. The opening story of Mary Linnen says it all.
I couldn't believe the amount of exhaustive research Mundy conducted to write this book. It's really quite amazing. I wish more authors could write books like this one--it's fast-paced and readable, and yet it touches on a subject that affects nearly everyone out there. I highly recommend it!
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