Drug Companies Increase Profits by Creating Fear of Diseases (and Even Diseases)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
(movie by Mel Brooks)
Coined nearly 20 years ago, the term “disease mongering” is still applicable today for what the pharmaceutical industry is doing to promote its blockbuster drugs among America’s “sick.”
In her book Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick, Lynn Payer described several disease-mongering tactics including 1) taking a normal function and implying that it is potentially dangerous and should be treated, preferably for a long time; 2) taking a common symptom that could mean anything and making it sound as if it is a sign of a serious disease; 3) saying that a large percentage of the population might be suffering from the “disease” and 4) recruiting doctors to spread the message.
Dr. Andrew Weil has highlighted another tactic: attaching “polysyllabic, clinical-sounding names to what used to be seen as trivial or transient conditions.” For example, “Occasional heartburn becomes ‘gastro-esophageal reflux disease’ or GERD; premenstrual tension becomes ‘premenstrual dysphoric disorder’ or PMDD; and shyness becomes ‘social anxiety disorder’ or SAD.”
Barbara Mintzer of the University of British Columbia has enumerated various tactics used by pharmaceutical companies to increase sales, such as 1) “Promotion of drugs as a first-line solution for problems previously not considered medical, such as disruptive classroom behavior… 2) promotion of anxiety about future ill-health in healthy individuals; and 3) introduction of questionable new diagnoses—such as PMDD or social anxiety disorder—that are hard to distinguish from normal life.”
Aggressive and creative marketing has permitted drug manufacturers to convince millions of people they have a problem that requires treatment and medication. Depression has been the poster child of this successful selling of ailments, and served as a catchall diagnosis for everything from sadness to anger to fear to remorse.
But like any trend that has marketing to thank for its existence, depression became passé. So nowadays the big drug companies have been telling as many people as possible that they have adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The industry even took out billboards to spread the news of the disease by lighting up Times Square with questions for consumers about lack of focus and over-agitation.
These and other messages helped skyrocket the number of ADHD cases, which have doubled and even tripled among important age groups (20 to 44 and 45 to 65).
Sometimes, the therapy being pushed can be more harmful than the condition it’s supposed to treat. Rheumatoid arthritis is another diagnosis that drug makers have sought to exploit, with immune suppressors such as Remicade, Enbrel, and Humira. Taking these, however, can “invite cancers, lethal infections, and activate TB [tuberculosis],” writes Martha Rosenberg at AlterNet.
Disease mongering also has led to “invented” disorders, like female sexual dysfunction. Thanks to the drug industry, as many as two-thirds of women think they have this problem.
Pfizer, the manufacturer that brought Viagra into the world, spent lavishly on research to come up with a “female equivalent” of its billion-dollar moneymaker. But it hasn’t found a miracle molecule yet.
In the meantime, Pfizer tried pushing Viagra on women, claiming it might just work for them too. But it gave up after studies showed it was no more effective than a placebo.
Another disease popular with drug companies is fibromyalgia, an exploitable syndrome characterized by chronic, widespread pain. Both Pfizer and Eli Lilly have pushed drugs to counter the syndrome and have carried out campaigns to encourage doctors to diagnose it and prescribe drugs for treatment.
-David Wallechinsky
Seven Diseases Big Pharma Hopes You Get in 2012 (by Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet)
Creating Disease: Big Pharma and Disease Mongering (by Larry Dossey, Huffington Post)
Disease Mongering: Good For Big Pharma, Bad For You (by Andrew Weil, Huffington Post)

PloS Medicine April 2006: Special Issue on Disease Mongering (pdf) 


Deborah Montesano 12 years ago
i found this blog while seething about the just released "news" that women should not undergo so many bone density tests and that the so-called disorder of "osteopenia" is in reality just a normal development as women get older. of course, the drugs used to treat this "condition" have been discredited as causing fractures so, whoops, no profit in focusing on that anymore. i'm also grappling with paula deen and her attempt to profit from having diabetes ii and promoting a drug to treat it. of course, neither she nor anyone else in either the food or drug industries bothers to talk about an understanding of nutrition and metabolism to deal with diabetes because, whoops, there just isn't the profit in that that there is in getting everyone on a drug. my outrage over that issue has been channeled into a blog, "fending off diabetes", (http://thepoliticali.blogspot.com/2012/01/fending-off-diabetes.html). i'm glad to have found this site. i've been resisting medical 'wisdom' for years on hrt, statins, etc. and then have watched as that 'wisdom' has been systematically discredited by research.
Frank Lee 12 years ago
nonimausa is absolutely right. this is fearmongering garbage that victimizes people more than "big pharma" could ever hope to. and please, quoting that huckster andrew weil....
anonymouse 12 years ago
and yet, and yet ... it was the smell of filthy lucre that led drug companies to buck intransigence at the cdc and side with doctors who were struggling to characterize a new viral illness -- chronic fatigue syndrome -- when it surfaced in the '80s. the health bureaucrats in atlanta and washington clung to the position that the illness was psychosomatic (possibly because of its potential impact on insurance companies) long after it had become clear that the disease was "real." see: osler's web, by hillary johnson.
NoniMausa 12 years ago
"...the number of adhd cases, which have doubled and even tripled among important age groups (20 to 44 and 45 to 65)...." as much as i distrust big business, cigarette companies having proved just how far they will go to preserve their income, reflexive distrust can be as dangerous as unthinking trust. adhd cases have multiplied in adults because -- pay attention here -- they were not diagnosed at all before the 70s or thereabouts. but that doesn't mean people didn't have it. international studies have shown a pretty stable incidence of 4.4% of adults in all societies. like lead poisoning or thyroid deficiency, it doesn't matter whether you believe in it or not, it will still cripple the sufferers. consistent inexplicable failure over a lifetime is not a minor complaint. just try a lifetime of being accused of not caring, of laziness, of never finishing anything, while all the time you are struggling to remember, to stay on track, and spend extra hours a day coping with keeping to a schedule. adhd is forever. and the costs are not limited to the sufferers: society pays in car accidents, bankruptcies, increased prison populations, and lost productivity. contrary to the common myth, getting a diagnosis, especially for an adult, is not easy. for most adults it can take years or even decades, and around $1000 in upfront costs to pay a clinic. but diagnosis and treatment, once begun, make a huge difference. early intervention does not cure the condition, but helps people compensate for it. they can finish their schooling and other longterm tasks. they can set up strategies to keep on schedule. they can avoid bankruptcy, car accidents, divorces and jail. they can build their personal value and retire without being a burden on others. pandering articles like this are just another stumbling block for undiagnosed adults. do some research before messing with people's lives.

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