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Big Pharma Shoves America Off the Wagon


Percentage of people using prescription drugs is staggering.

As expected, most industries have retrenched during this recession. Not so the pharmaceutical industry: It keeps spending, and spending, and spending -- on lobbying, to beat back health-care reform, and on advertising, to inspire people to buy its sweet, sweet drugs.

In the first 3 months of 2009, the pharmaceutical and health-care-products industry spent more than $66.5 million on lobbying Congress -- about $1.2 million per day, or $50,000 an hour, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And big pharma's total spending on advertising certainly hasn't declined significantly, either: Advertising Age recently reported that it spent $12.7 billion on marketing in 2008, with more money than ever dumped into television commercials. Fourteen of the top 100 advertisers are pill-pushers.

The recession has presented drug companies with an opportunity to tell everyone that a cure for depression, impotence, and the sniffles is only a tiny pill away. Close to 10% of men and women in America are now taking drugs to combat depression, and, in the United Kingdom, 2.1 million more antidepressant prescriptions were written in 2008 than in 2007.

Rare conditions have a way of becoming common when a drug is developed for them.

And in this recession, former big shots whose stars have fallen are looking for a quick fix for what ails them, and the list is long: depression, panic disorders, attention deficits, and (gasp) erectile dysfunction can all result from chronic stress and general misfortune -- or so big pharma would have you believe. Sources of such stress could mean anything from being on the end of a losing trade to going bankrupt when your company collapses.

And chronic stress can lead to reduced testosterone -- which means diminished sexual desire, possible marital conflict, and lower self-esteem. Drug makers know this, and have flooded our TV sets with commercials for erectile-dysfunction drugs: There's Viagra, and Cialis (GSK), and Levitra (SGP) -- all just what the doctor ordered.
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