Book Review: The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg – by Doug Bremner

I just finished the book The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg, by Doug Bremner.  The book describes Dr. Bremner’s attempts to study the side-effects of the acne medicine Accutane, and the book chronicles his life’s unraveling in the face of a smear campaign by the drug company Hoffman-La Roche.

Teenagers who had taken the acne drug Accutane had an increase in risk of suicides and suicide attempts. In 2002, a teenager who had taken Accutane intentionally flew a plane into an office building.

Doug Bremner was working for Emory University in 2001 when he was approached by the father of a boy who had killed himself after being prescribed Accutane. Having no real idea of what he was getting into, Bremner volunteered to conduct studies and ended up in the vortex of a multi-million dollar battle between a ruthless pharmaceutical company and shark trial lawyers working for the plaintiffs.

Roche took the drug off the market in 2009, but not before accumulated statistics on suicides, birth defects and stunted growth attributed to the medicine.  Roche warned of possible side effects in the fine print, but the company soon began pushing sales of the drugs to kids with just normal teenage acne.  You will recall that this sort of pressure for more and more sales is what motivated Purdue-Pharma to be fined $600,000,000 for over-marketing OxyContin as a “safer alternative” to Percocet or Vicodin. (See earlier post.)

Bremner signed on as an expert witness for plaintiff’s counsel for several families that sued Roche when they lost teens to suicide. I came to learn a little bit about what it is like to be a witness in a high-pressure court case by reading this book. Bremner was grilled by defense lawyers in 15 different, day-long depositions where he was forced to answer endless questions over a course of years. At Roche’s apparent urging, Bremner was brought up to defend ethics charges at the university where he worked, and Bremner’s life slipped out of control as one of the world’s richest corporations did everything they could to publicly discredit him.  The lawyers working with Bremner failed to prepare him or fully protect him, and the stress pushed Bremner away from his family. Bremner tried to keep centered by reminding himself that he was helping the families of Accutane patients, but this only carried him so far.  He escaped by taking long drives where he researched the background of his mother who died when he was just 4 years old.  But this angered his other family members, who viewed this as an affront to his stepmother.  Feeling alone, Bremner grew too close to an ex-girlfriend from high school in an online friendship.  Bremner resolved these issues on a therapist’s couch, and in the book he mused on New Age religions, particle physics, genealogy, and contemporary music.

Doug Bremner M.D. dared to speak out and conduct studies on the side effects of the drug Accutane. This book describes his battle.

The book ends on an upbeat note as Roche pulled the drug from the market. Also, Bremner’s biggest detractor is exposed as being secretly on the payroll of Big Pharma.  Doug Bremner healed his familial rifts when he smartened up and refocused on his wife.  Bremner’s efforts to learn more about his mother led him through a trail of dinky towns in eastern Washington, which is the same area where I live and practice law.  In the end, Bremner held a long-overdue burial service with his mother’s ashes.

Someday, society will hold these drug companies to higher standards of decency, and they will not be able to stall and hide these side effects for so long while they reap billions of dollars.  But until this day, Doug Bremner will go down in the history books as a champion of the forgotten patients, as a physician who told the truth at great personal cost, or simply dared to conduct basic studies in response to patient complaints.

Doug Bremner writes in the book: “I don’t know how I got dragged into this mess… I always avoided controversy and confrontation like the plague.”  I am sure Doug Bremner was selected as an expert witness because he was honest, well-credentialed, and could connect with a jury.  But to take on a project like this, it helps to have a hide like an alligator.  This book is an amazing personal story of a man who nearly lost everything in his bid to stand up for families harmed by a company that pushed Accutane for profit – it is definitely worth picking up.






2 Responses to “Book Review: The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg – by Doug Bremner”

  • Nancy:

    Your review states that Roche pulled the drug off the market, which sounds like this ended the problem.

    Roche actually let the patents expire, and other manufacturers like Claravis are now doing the same thing Roche did, and dermatologists are lying to parents, saying that the drug is safe and simply got a bad rap, so they can collect “consultant fees” from the manufacturer.

    Please warn every parent of every teenager that you know.

  • Steve Graham:

    Thanks Nancy, I appreciate that information!

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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