M.D.s Trash-Talk Big Pharma In New Documentary



Pharmaceutical companies: bad. Crusading students and doctors: good.

That’s the essence of “White Coat Rebels,” a Participant documentary premiering Oct. 18, on the Fuse linear channel and Fuse+ streaming service, which target a young, multicultural audience.

Fuse said it has teamed up with the nonprofit Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM) to present the film, and that they’ll collaborate on social media promotion and press outreach.

The student-driven UAEM, which works to cut prices for -- and improve access to -- medicine, has been achieving great things after only a few years. I know this because much of the 82-minute documentary follows a couple of its members fighting the good fight over a period of several months.

But let’s focus here on what the documentary says about pharmaceutical marketing -- none of which is particularly new to anyone who’s read about the lawsuits blaming Big Pharma for the opioid crisis, or watched the recent Hulu miniseries “Dopesick” (though perhaps new to the younger Fuse audiece).



But here it’s doctor themselves -- part of the “White Coat Rebels” of the documentary’s title -- criticizing drug companies.

A doctor at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, bemoaning the “lobbying power of big pharma,” talks about how drug companies had a role in adding a fifth vital health sign, pain, to height, weight, blood pressure and pulse. “We were told that we were undertreating pain, so we began to overtreat,” she says, as examples of Purdue opioid ads play on the screen. “We were being manipulated. We did a lot of damage to our patients.”

A community medicine doctor attends a Family Medicine Experience annual meeting, where he deliberately picks up industry freebies he’s always seen as “dirty.” His two bags filled with swag, he says, “reinforce the notion that what we’ve got is a market, not a health care system. This is about profit. It’s not about taking care of people.”

Ah, profits! A relevant subject, since “White Coat Rebels” will premiere the very day when Johnson & Johnson kicks off big pharma’s quarterly procession of earnings reports.

The doctors also skewer pharma TV advertising.

“All the pharmaceutical advertising makes people feel like [doctors are] not doing right by them if they don’t walk out with medicine in general, and sometimes with a specific medicine,” says the community doctor.

Fuse being ad-supported, we asked the channel about its position on pharma ads and were told that “Fuse provides a platform for diverse communities, filmmakers, and a broad array of advertisers to share their unique perspectives on important topics."

The film makes no attempts to get platitudes from the pharma industry in response to its charges.

That would only slow down the action in what is mostly a well-crafted doc, whatever its point of view.

I say mostly, because the film is structured chronologically, month by month, starting in August 2019 – so everybody watching knows what’s coming some seven months down the line. And just when the pandemic stops most activity in America, the documentary also loses steam -- and seems dated.

The film stutters to an ending in what seems to be late summer 2020. UEM is engaged in a “free the vaccine” campaign, trying to guarantee that the coming shots will be free to all.

I would have liked to hear what the group thought of what eventually emerged. And, on the issue of lowering drug prices in general, how did all the participants feel about the stipulations in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act? 

And how did they feel about Dr. Anthony Fauci? Oh, excuse me, he’s actually the subject of another documentary debuting Oct. 18 that also threatens to spend a lot of its time attacking the pharma industry.

This one, titled “The Real Anthony Fauci,” is based on gadfly Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s 2021 book, “The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health.”

"I used to watch these figures with admiration,” Kennedy says in a press release where he also attacks the pharmaceutical industry for using its “indentured servants on Capitol Hill and its financial clout to substantially hollow out [regulatory] agencies beginning in the 1980s."

This documentary, which will stream free at, also promises to examine the relationship between big pharma and the military. 

While some may say that Kennedy, based on his conspiracy-prone theories of the past few years, may deserve his own white coat, I’d advise pharma companies to be more concerned about this film than “White Coat Rebels.” Its publisher says that Kennedy’s book has sold over a million copies in under a year.

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