Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Pill Poppers

Science series. How much is really known about the medicines we take, and can they be trusted to work? Horizon investigates the most popular pills people pop.

Over a person's lifetime they are likely to be prescribed more than 14,000 pills. Antibiotics, cholesterol lowering tablets, anti-depressants, painkillers, even tablets to extend youth and improve performance in bed. These drugs perform minor miracles day after day, but how much is really known about them?

Drug discovery often owes as much to serendipity as to science, and that means much is learnt about how medicines work, or even what they do, when they're taken. By investigating some of the most popular pills people pop, Horizon asks, how much can they be trusted to do what they are supposed to?

1 hour



Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • Pill Poppers: Introduction

    Over the course of a lifetime, each person on average will be prescribed more than 14,000 pills; but do the experts actually know what the effects are?

    Duration: 01:41

  • Developing Drugs

    The GSK pharmaceutical lab holds over 2 million nameless chemical compounds. These compounds could be toxic, or they could be a miracle cure; but how do the scientists find out?

    Duration: 05:00

  • The Effects of Drugs on the Healthy

    Two people discuss the outcomes of the drug Ritalin, which is prescribed to patients with ADHD. One person actually has the condition, while the other doesn’t; what will the results show?

    Duration: 09:05

  • The Success of Viagra

    Research Fellow Chris Wayman talks about how one of the best-selling drugs of all time came to be. Some experts, however, are critical of the drug’s marketing.

    Duration: 07:14

  • Contraception

    Women worldwide use - and rely - on the contraceptive pill, although this wasn’t their main purpose. Meanwhile, one scientist has discovered a male contraceptive pill.

    Duration: 05:36

  • Side-Effects

    All drugs come with side-effects; however, the side-effects of some drugs proved fatal for a number of people taking them.

    Duration: 05:36

  • Addiction

    For some, the drug solution has turned out to be the problem. One woman talks about her addiction to painkillers and the issues surrounding it.

    Duration: 05:52

  • Antibiotics

    Antibiotics have been credited with increasing the lifespan of humans by nearly a decade. However, the body is becoming resistant to said drug, which could prove to be a big problem in the future.

    Duration: 07:17

  • Statin

    A new drug, Statin, can aid an illness or disease even before someone is diagnosed, but it doesn’t come without risks.

    Duration: 05:37

  • Choosing to Die

    The Exit International group believe that they should choose when they die. They have even gone about trying to create a pill with the power to kill in a peaceful manner.

    Duration: 06:01