In the 6th grade a group of us decided to play a practical joke on classmate, Tommy. Each of us approached Tommy and while staring at one of his earlobes asked him if he felt okay, because it looked like he had epidermis. His response started out with a healthy, “Yes,” but after being asked several times, his response soon dwindled to a weak, “I think so.” About half-way through the morning, he went back to the teacher’s desk and told her that he needed to go home . When she asked him why he tugged on his ear lobe and told her, “I’ve got epidermis.” Holding back her laughter she asked him if he knew what epidermis was to which he replied, “No, but I’ve got it.” “Of course you do,” answered the teacher, “epidermis is your skin.”
After reading Selling Sickness, by Ray Mounihan and Alan Cassels, I had to wonder if one of my 6th grade classmates went into marketing for the pharmaceutical industry.
What we did in the 6th grade as a practical joke on one of our classmates is basically what the drug companies are doing to us, as a population, in order to sell more drugs. For example, the National Institutes of Health’s guidelines for cholesterol in the 1990’s warranted treatment for 13 million Americans. By revising the guidelines in 2001, the number of Americans who warranted treatment jumped to 36 million. In 2004 the guidelines were readjusted yet again with the result of 40 million Americans needing to be treated for cholesterol.
In less than 5-years, the number of Americans in need of treatment for cholesterol jumped from 13 million to 40 million. That is a lot of new prescriptions that had to be written for medication to control cholesterol levels. If you are thinking that the pharmaceutical companies stand to make a huge profit, you would be right,—and therein is the motive for the guideline revisions.
Taking the profit motive out of the picture for a moment, what can be the harm? So what if someone takes medication for better health? What can be the harm? In short—side effects. There are some people who need the medication because of excessively high cholesterol; that cannot be argued. What can be argued is whether an otherwise healthy person needs medication to treat something for ‘better health’ when the side effects of the medication will do more harm than good.
Maounihan and Cassels paint a disturbing picture of how guidelines are revised to create a larger customer pool for their pharmaceuticals. How the FDA has turned from a consumer watch dog to an arthritic hound.
The authors also expose the pharmaceutical companies’ tactic of hiring celebrities to go on talk shows to bring attention to a particular health problem like ADD. What the public never learns is that the celebrity is well paid by the pharmaceutical company to bring this ‘awareness’ to the public’s attention. When challenged, the pharmaceutical companies can disclaim that the celebrity was hired to sell their drug(s). After all, the celebrity is there only to bring public attention to the ‘disease’. This raises another issue that the authors discuss in some detail; how many viewers are going to self diagnose and request the drug from their physician?
After reading the book, you may find yourself challenging your doctor’s diagnosis, because by the standards of only a decade ago you would be considered a ‘healthy specimen’.
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