Pharmaceutical companies are systematically creating
diseases in order to sell more of their products,
turning healthy people into patients and placing
many at risk of harm, a special edition of a leading
medical journal claims today.
The practice of diseasemongering by the
drug industry is promoting non-existent illnesses
or exaggerating minor ones for the sake of profits,
according to a set of essays published by the open-access
journal Public Library of Science Medicine.
The special issue, edited by David Henry, of Newcastle
University in Australia, and Ray Moynihan, an Australian
journalist, reports that conditions such as female
sexual dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) and restless legs syndrome
have been promoted by companies hoping to sell more
of their drugs.
Other minor problems that are a normal part of
life, such as symptoms of the menopause, are also
becoming increasingly medicalised, while
risk factors such as high cholesterol levels or
osteoporosis are being presented as diseases in
their own right, according to the editors.
Disease-mongering turns healthy people into
patients, wastes precious resources and causes iatrogenic
(medically induced) harm, they say. Like
the marketing strategies that drive it, disease-mongering
poses a global challenge to those interested in
public health, demanding in turn a global response.
Doctors, patients and support groups need to be
more aware that pharmaceutical companies are taking
this approach, and more research is needed into
the changing ways in which conditions are presented,
according to the writers.
Disease-awareness campaigns are often funded by
drug companies, and more often designed to
sell drugs than to illuminate or inform or educate
about the prevention of illness or the maintenance
of health, they say.
Particular conditions that are highlighted in the
journal include sexual function in both men and
women. The prevalence of female sexual dysfunction,
one paper claims, has been highly exaggerated to
provide a new market for drugs, while the makers
of anti-impotence medicines, such as Viagra and
Cialis, have been involved with their presentation
as lifestyle drugs that can boost the sexual prowess
of healthy men.
Ordinary shyness is routinely presented as a social
anxiety disorder and treated with antidepressants,
while newly identified conditions such as restless
legs syndrome a constant urge to move
ones legs are presented as being much
more common than they really are.
Richard Ley, of the Association of the British
Pharmaceutical Industry, rejected the accusations,
pointing out that Britain has firm safeguards against
disease-mongering. Many of the authors criticisms,
he said, were aimed squarely at countries such as
the United States, where pharmaceuticals can be
openly advertised directly to patients.
Drug companies are not allowed to communicate
directly with patients, and we do not invent diseases,
We provide information that there are treatments
out there that might help certain conditions, but
at the end of the day it is down to health professionals
to decide if they are appropriate.
The best safeguard is that the doctor who
knows the product and knows the patients history
is the one who decides what to prescribe.
TRICK OR TREAT?
Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats
and loss of libido
Criticism too often medicalised
as part of a disorder when it is a normal
phase of life
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
Symptoms include constipation, cramps and
Criticism promoted by drug companies
as a serious illness needing therapy, when it is
usually a mild problem
Symptoms impotence in men, lack of libido
or difficulty becoming aroused in women
Criticism drugs such as Viagra
marketed not only for treating genuine erectile
dysfunction caused by medical problems but as lifestyle
Symptoms thinning of the bones, particularly
among postmenopausal women
Criticism portrayed as a disease
in its own right, when it is really a risk factor
for broken bones
Symptoms urge to move legs because
of unpleasant feelings, often at night
Criticism prevalence of a relatively
rare condition exaggerated by the media, along with
the need for treatment