Death by Doctor: The Sixth Leading Cause of Death


Recent reports suggest that 247 people die in America every day due to preventable infections picked up in hospital, with doctors and their staff implicated as the causes. A team of researchers from the Joint Commision, the leading hospital accrediting agency in America, found that doctors and nurses washed their hands an average 50 percent of the time, spreading around bugs that would otherwise not have killed.

It is ironic that the same medical system that is willing to go to such extremes to ostensibly save very few lives – injecting children with untested vaccines in 2010 to ‘protect them from Swine Flu’ – has not yet found it within themselves to wash their hands. The most depressing thing about these these current events is that the illness and deaths attributed to them is not even the biggest deal, when compared to the amount of harm that is done each and every day through the ongoing misuse of pharmaceutical drugs.

The extent of the problems associated with this man-made drugs was first brought to light in a research article by Dr Jason Lazarou in 1998. The Toronto-based doctor investigated the actual causes of death to patients in hospital, comparing them to the official reasons that were written on birth certificates. He found that if a drug is prescribed to treat high blood pressure and it kills the patient, then high blood pressure is given as the reason for death, not the drug. Equally, if cancer patients were killed by chemotherapy, it was again the cancer that was awarded blame rather than the drug.

Lazarou did not count dosage errors, overdoses or allergic reactions; even so, he found that 6.7% of people entering hospital suffered reactions to drugs that either required emergency treatment or resulted in permanent disability or death. About one in twenty of these reactions resulted in death. This, calculated the research team, amounted to 76,000-137,000 death per year. These surprise findings poured scorn on the official figures given by the Centers for Disease Control (below).

Whilst this landmark study brought scrutiny on the issue of ‘death by doctor’, the mainstream media were predictably complicit in keeping the findings from public eyes. Doctors, their medical associations and the big drug companies played down the startling figures and the establishment took the stance that, as the study examined outcomes in patients who were already in hospital, the data did not reflect the rate of adverse drug reactions in the general public. Of course, it was impossible for anyone to make any conclusions with any certainty as no study on the ADRs in the general public existed; but no-one with the power to make it happen wanted further examination or follow-up studies. No further studies were ever made on the rate of ADRs in the American public.

However, 10 years later, Swedish scientists did what no-one else seemed capable of and asked the question that no-one else seemed willing to do. In a study that featured in the British Journal of Medical Pharmacology in 2008, Wester et al collected detailed data on the actual cause of death (as opposed to broad labels such as ‘heart disease’) across the population at large. Their results were simply staggering; an startling 3 percent of individuals died as a result of the drugs given to them.

But can the findings here be applied to other Westernised countries, for example America? The simplest way would simply to do the study; of course, this remains very unlikely to ever occur. However, Americans spend just over twice as much on drugs per person than Swedes – $972 vs $398 per person per year (OECD, 2004; Henriksson et al, 1999) – although the data collected by Melander and Nilsson (2004) suggests that America pay just over twice as much per drug. In essence, it is a fair assumption that Americans consume approximately the same amount of prescription drugs as their Swedish counterparts and, most importantly, that the conclusions carry weight in America.

It is a fair extrapolation that around 3% of deaths in America are caused by adverse reactions to drugs prescribed according to ‘standard of care’. Put another way, one in every 33 people is killed by their doctor. You might think this would stir up a media frenzy and stimulate wide discussion on the pervasive influence of drug-based medicine on daily life in the Western world. But, instead, not a peep. The media refuse to bite the hand that feeds them and show no signs of doing so.

Meanwhile, even by the most conservative figures, death by doctor stands as the sixth leading cause of death across the Western World. The 3 percent figure strongly corroborates the estimates made by Lazarou, equating to 72,720 in America, and 14,740 in Britain. Every year. From drugs. This frightening figures put into context the price that the public pay in a system that considers drugs as the solution for every issue under the sun. The media blackout put into sharp focus the over-bearing control yielded by Big Pharma over the press. The drug companies are making billions, but people are paying with their lives.

On top of this systemic killing of patients with pharmaceuticals, the 247 deaths that occur each day from preventable infections picked up from hospital represent another 90,000 deaths per year. These infections represent a tragedy for 247 families, but the biggest tragedy of all is how these accidents make up only just over half of the individuals killed by the very people meant to be looking after their health.



Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). FASTSTATS – Leading Causes of Death. Available online at [Retrieved 05 Mar 2010].

Henriksson et al (1999). Pharmaceutical expenditure in Sweden. Health Policy, 47(2): 125-44.

Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN (1998). Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA. 1998 Apr 15;279(15):1200-5.

Melander A and Nilsson J (2004). Pricing and Costs of Drugs in the United States and Sweden: A Comparison Based on Drug Acquisition Costs at the Patient Outcome Level. Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, 27(2): 115-19.

Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, (2008) National Health Expenditures, Forecast summary and selected tables”,. Retrieved March 20, 2008.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2003). OECD Health Data, How Does the United States Compare. Available from Retrieved 05-03-10..

Mandavi, Tiwari P, Kapur V (2007). Inappropriate drug prescribing identified among Indian elderly hospitalized patients. The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 19(3): 111-116.

Wester K, Jönsson AK, Spigset O, Druid H, Hägg S (2008). Incidence of fatal adverse drug reactions: a population based study. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 65(4):573-9.

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