ELIZABETH FIEND REPORTS: Pharmaceutical corporations hire PR firms to sell disease like they do sneakers. “Just do it” becomes “just take it” — the little purple pill, that is. Do you have a going problem, or is it a growing problem? One pill (Viagra) makes you larger and one pill (Avodart) makes you small. But the question remains, do they do anything at all? smiley-pills.jpg

Go ask Alice.

Alice went to sleep one night feeling perfectly fine. The next day she woke up to learn she had high blood pressure! Absolutely nothing about her changed, her numbers were exactly the same. But a committee redefined the definition of high blood pressure, and Alice and about a million others developed the medical condition, literally overnight.

Naturally, they need treatment. Wow, what a great marketing strategy! And that’s exactly what it is….

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, bone density loss, these are not diseases, they’re risk factors for illnesses and injuries like stroke, heart disease and broken hips. But they’ve been repackaged by pharmaceutical corporations, via PR firms, via the medical community, to be diseases in their own right. These “diseases” are then pushed at us in a very scary way by describing with language like “silent killers.” It’s a killer way to maximize your market.

What used to be a risk factor is now a disease. Mild symptoms turn overnight into the forewarning of a serious health problem. What was once was an ordinary process of life is now a medical problem. They call them “lifestyle drugs.” Female sexual dysfunction, apparently 43% of women have it! Can’t get it up? Erectile dysfunction has a new regular-guy nickname, ED.

Even personal, social problems like shyness are now defined as psychiatric disorders. Geez, and I thought you were just quiet . . .

These new designer prescription drugs take attention away from down-to-earth, non-pharmacological strategies for healthier, happier living, such as exercise and diet. Often, these are enough to nip the problem in the bud. How about a calcium/magnesium supplement for that restless leg? Take 500mgs of calcium and 250mgs of magnesium, morning and night, limit your caffeine and alcohol. Call me in a month.

Of course there are many people experiencing serious forms of these problems who will profit greatly from pharmaceutical treatment, but most do not. Pharmaceutical companies invent a need, then establish a market for a new blockbuster drug. They incessantly target the health care industry — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical foundations, etc. — and through relentless, sophisticated lobbying establish the “disease” as significant and treatable in the minds of these professionals. It’s called disease mongering.

Our government helps out by encouraging, actually rewarding, corporations in the health care sector who pursue for-profit activities. Health care is now called an industry. We can’t blame this one on Bush either, it was the Clinton administration which allowed the loosening of regulations regarding direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing.

Popularizing attention deficit, mood disorders, and syndromes like restless leg and irritable bowel can convince millions of healthy people that they are, in fact, sick.

Through TV and print ads an appetite is created in the minds of consumers, er, I mean patients, by letting them know there’s a clinically proven treatment. Treatment for what? We didn’t even know we were sick! They make us afraid and then we consume.

God damn the pusher man.

Pharmaceutical corporations fund so-called disease awareness campaigns. They issue press releases which are picked up by the media. Pharmaceutical companies, often through a third party like a corporate sponsored foundation, bestow media awards with lucrative prizes for journalists who write the best article on, say, osteoporosis. They use the media to push a certain view point, including exaggerating disease prevalence and consequence. Public awareness is changed.

The media already loves to hype, so fear mongering comes naturally. The line between medical education and marketing begins to blur. Conflict of interest? No way — it’s public service!

Don’t forget the side effects. That pill, the one for a disease that’s not a disease which you may or may not have, dries out your eyes or gives you constipation. So you’re prescribed another medication to curb the side effects of your other medication. Every one of these pills has side effects, some potentially very harmful, like organ failure — even death.

Stop chasing rabbits, Alice. Ask the Red Queen, I think she’ll know. Menopause is not a disease.

These pills cost a hell of a lot of money, too. Inappropriate prescriptions for high-profile drugs costs us millions each year. These new drugs, targeted at basically healthy people, are rapidly eroding the health and prescription drug insurance systems. Looking at the Big Picture, globally, developing medicines for mild problems takes money and resources away from the development of treatment for serious life-threatening diseases — the ones that kill millions each year in developing countries. Why be a medical do-gooder when you can be a medical robber baron? The rich are getting richer. The poor, well, they’re dying.

God damn the pusher man.

junksciencecartooncarrot.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Fiend is Philadelphia’s Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Most people don’t know it yet, but that will change. Miss Fiend is host of the Big Tea Party. But enough of my yackin’, here’s Elizabeth with the 411 on her column: “Most people don’t think about the fact that science doesn’t determine our government’s regulations and recommendations for health and the environment, it’s sleazy politicking and backroom lobbying that makes the rules and I would like to bring this fact more to the forefront,” she says. “My philosophy is decidedly anti-big business/governmental lobbying but in line with the science of (my idol, ok crush) Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard University School of Public Health. There’s an edge to it, but it’s not goofy new age-y stuff with no basis in fact. And besides all that, I am the most fun of all the health advocates. I’m the only one who consistently wears pink and is brewing absinthe in her kitchen (excuse me, that’s illegal, infusing absinthe).” Word.

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