THE BOOK

"Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine" (HarperCollins) makes the argument that pharmaceutical industry profit-mongering is at the heart of a bigger-than-Enron scandal that has hijacked science, misled doctors and jeopardized our health by selling us cures that don't help and might hurt.

THE AUTHOR

John Abramson is a family physician on the clinical faculty of Harvard Medical School. He has worked for the U.S. Public Health Service and as an HMO executive, but most salient here is that he spent two years as a Robert Wood Johnson fellow studying research design, statistics, epidemiology and health policy.

THE MESSAGE

Abramson, often citing cases from his own practice, lays bare the "commercialization of American medicine," from the corrupting sponsorship of research published in leading journals to the direct-to-consumer marketing that prompts patients to demand expensive drugs even when doctors counsel against them.

FOR EXAMPLE

Last week's withdrawal of Merck's arthritis drug Vioxx enhances the timeliness of Abramson's message. He deconstructs the journal articles that led to the popularization of the drug, citing the soft-pedaling of its known negatives as clear evidence of the drug industry's pursuit of profits at the expense of the public good.

BOTTOM LINE

Beyond the caveat emptor, "Overdosed America" doesn't offer a lot of practicable steps for the medical consumer. In fact its best advice is something you read all the time in these pages and elsewhere: Modern medicine, for all its marvels, often does nothing that lifestyle changes wouldn't do with less cost and less risk.