Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Drug Companies Inventing Diseases?

This article from the London Times highlights a growing problem with Pharmaceutical companies and their ever present marketing push.

One of the greatest long-term risks facing the US the excessive cost of our healthcare system. Every layer of the system deserves some blame - Medicare/Medicaid, Hospitals, Doctors, Patients (for expecting a cure for every disease - "But you fixed that guy on ER last week"), Insurers, Pharmaceutical companies and the lawyers that sue the Pharma companies.

By reaching out to consumers through aggressive marketing campaigns the Pharma companies are manufacturing demand that might otherwise not exist. If pharmaceuticals were like any other consumer product (ie, books, sporting goods, etc) that you paid for out of your own pocket this would not be an issue. Would you let major company talk you into paying $200/mth to treat a "disease" that you may not have? Of course not. But through the wonders of insurance, that $300 prescription becomes a $10 co-pay. The problem is that someone (the Federal/State government, the insurer, your employer) is footing the rest of that bill and financing meaningful revenue streams for drug treatments that might otherwise be small, niche markets at best.

I disagree with the alarmist tone of this article and their title about drug companies "inventing diseases" is misleading at best. I do, however, believe that the drug companies attempt to make fairly rare conditions seem common and normal stages of aging appear to be treatable illnesses.

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.

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.”

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