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Big Pharma Wants To Make You Sick


Side effects include: shock, disgust, even outrage.

The global pharmaceuticals market is expected to reach $967 billion by 2011, which is why companies are always looking for that next must-have drug.

Staying profitable and pleasing shareholders means constant innovation, but the FDA approval process for a new drug can take over a decade to complete and the cost can exceed $800 million. From there, on average, only five of every 5000 will make it to market. And there's no guarantee any of those five will turn a profit.

That's why Big Pharma's latest innovations aren't new drugs, they're new syndromes and disorders. Or, more specifically, initiatives to market existing drugs for these bizarre afflictions. It's known colloquially as disease-mongering, and it's the reason the pharmaceutical industry currently spends more on advertising than they do on research and development.

What we've got today are, essentially, drugs looking for illnesses.

In "The Art of Branding a Condition," an article that appeared in Medical Marketing & Media, Vince Parry, a marketing executive, discussed how pharmaceutical companies are "fostering the creation of a condition and aligning it with a product."

Like Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Requip was a drug used to treat Parkinson's disease – and the infinitesimal number of people who suffered from RLS, an extremely rare condition discovered in 1945 by Swedish doctor Karl Ekbom.

Since syndromes are defined by symptoms rather than pathological processes, the old "reverse-placebo effect" can stimulate sales almost immediately. Consumers hear a roll call of symptoms and become convinced they've got them, whatever they are. That's why, these days, RLS "affects" nearly 12 million people in the United States alone.

So if your legs are restless, ask your doctor about Requip. And try not to pay too much attention to the excessive sexual urges, hallucinations and compulsive gambling it's been shown to cause.

Steven Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz of the Dartmouth Medical School had this to say on the matter:

"Helping sick people get treatment is a good thing. Convincing healthy people that they are sick is not. Sick people stand to benefit from treatment, but healthy people may only get hurt: they get labeled "sick," may become anxious about their condition, and, if they are treated, may experience side effects that overwhelm any potential benefit."

Big Pharma's tactics are likewise being criticized across the pond. Dr. Maureen Baker of the Royal College of General Practitioners opined:

"It is very much in the interest of the pharmaceutical industry to draw a line that includes as large a population as possible within the 'ill' category. The bigger this group is, the more drugs they can sell."

Does feeling sleepy mean you're ill? According to Cephalon (CEPH) it does. It's helping people combat Excessive Sleepiness (ES) with a drug called Provigil, prescribed to "improve wakefulness." Seriously. Unfortunately, side effects include depression, anxiety, psychosis, mania and thoughts of suicide.
Not things your morning espresso generally causes.

"Hey guys! I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but half a millimeter away from the edge of this windowsill!"

Smokers trying to quit by using Chantix may also experience suicidal thoughts. Somebody at Pfizer (PFE), the drug's manufacturer, has to see the irony: In an effort to kick a habit that's killing them, smokers are driven to kill themselves.

But let's forget suicide for a moment and talk about homicide. Last year, an Associated Press report claimed that millions of Americans are living with undiagnosed Intermittent Explosive Disorder, sometimes called Road Rage Syndrome, characterized by recurring outbursts of extreme anger and violence.

Luckily, Dr. Daniel Deutschmann, a psychiatrist and clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University, found success medicating IED patients with existing anti-epileptic drugs, rendering deep breaths and counting to ten obsolete.

Then there's the age-old problem of teenage rebelliousness. Or, as they're calling it these days, Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). ODD is described as an ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior by children toward authority figures.

Shouldn't parents just wait for their spawn to grow out of their rebellious phase? Don't be ridiculous. Joe Biederman, M.D., a leading pediatric psychopharmacologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recommends "atypical antipsychotics," like Risperdal, Clozaril, Abilify and Seroquel.

Prescribing necessary medication to patients is the centerpiece of responsible medicine, but putting marketing ahead of medicine is irresponsible.

If the side effects of your RLS drugs are too much to tolerate, stop taking them. Wait, don't. Rapid dose reduction can cause life-threatening neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Which sounds like a real medical problem.

Check out Hoofy and Boo's take on Big Pharma!

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