The claim that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US has always rested on very shaky evidence; yet it’s become common wisdom that is cited as though everyone accepts it. But if estimates of 250,000 to 400,000 deaths due to medical error are way too high, what is the real number? A study published last month suggests that it’s almost certainly a lot lower and has been modestly decreasing since 1990.
Eban: They knew I was coming. They had let me come in, but I saw a very different world within these plants through whistleblowers. I worked with a lot of whistleblowers who had contacted me — or I had made contact with them — who were showing me documents, showing me photographs, giving me really the sort of gory details of what was happening in these plants and the kinds of crazy decisions that were being made like failing drugs, drugs that had glass particles in them were being approved to be dispensed. Broken down, rusted equipment that was leaving metallic fragments in pills. Those were being dispensed.
Illicit use of ingredients. You can’t just swap ingredients. But they had drugs that were dissolving improperly, so they just haphazardly changed things up to try to get better data to show the FDA. All of this was taking place in a kind of lawless regulatory environment. They’re not afraid of their own regulators. They’re afraid of the FDA, but what they have built is an elaborate system to trick the FDA. Our FDA has all but volunteered to be tricked because we announce our inspections in advance overseas. We give 3 months’ notice. They send in data fabrication teams.