‘Bottle of Lies’


Katherine Eban, Ecco, 482 pages, $28.99. How do you know whether the medicines you buy are worth the money you pay for them? This is a tricky question. On the one hand, with the first $2 million pill on the horizon, the escalating prices of brand-name prescription drugs have become exceedingly hard to justify — one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats in Congress can agree on these days. On the other hand, when generic manufacturing causes the price of prescriptions to drop, many consumers wonder whether the adage “you get what you pay for” is a good rule to apply to their own health — especially when that manufacturing uses a global supply chain that can involve more than 80 intermediary firms between raw materials and finished product. For Katherine Eban, in “Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom,” there is no dilemma. In this pulpy, gripping tale of pharmaceutical scandal practiced on a vast scale, brand-name drugs and the companies that make them are good, generic drugs and the companies that make them are bad, and Americans should be afraid of any drug (especially an Indian- or Chinese-made drug) not labeled with the brand name of a European or American pharmaceutical firm. Eban is an accomplished investigative journalist, but the shortfall of this book is that at no point in 400 pages of text does Eban offer a solution to the information she provides. As a result, Eban has given a lopsided gift to the well-funded lobbyists of the trade groups representing this industry.