If you think that the pharmaceutical industry is in the business of keeping people healthy, think again. Drug companies’ profits depend on people being sick — or at the very least, believing that they’re sick.
As writer Martha Rosenberg explains in a recent article that appeared on AlterNet, Big Pharma focuses the majority of its research budget not on developing drugs to help people with difficult to treat medical conditions, but on developing blockbuster hits. These are the drugs that treat health problems that affect large numbers of people and that lend themselves to self-diagnosis and/or don’t have clear diagnostic criteria – things like depression, anxiety, sleep problems, asthma, allergies, chronic pain and high cholesterol.
Drug companies would like us to think of their ads more like public service announcements designed to “raise awareness” about diseases and their possible treatments. Pharma giant, Merck, claims that direct-to-consumer advertising “contributes to greater awareness about conditions and diseases, which can benefit public health by increasing the number of patients appropriately diagnosed and treated.” The funny thing about it is, the “conditions and diseases” for which drugs are heavily marketed are all ones that the public is already well-aware of. Here’s a list of the top 10 best-selling drugs in the U.S. in 2010 (the most recent year for which this data is available).
The Top 10 Best-Selling Drugs in America
|3||Plavix||Heart attack and stroke prevention||$4,675,483|
|10||Cymbalta||Depression and anxiety||$2,638,536|
It used to be joked that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. These days, the opportunist is Big Pharma, which raises your insurance premiums and taxes while providing you “low-priced” drugs that you paid for.
How did Pharma get a good third of the United States taking antidepressants, statins, and Purple Pills, albeit at low prices? By selling the diseases of depression, high cholesterol, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Supply-driven marketing, also known as “Have Drug — Need Disease and Patients,” not only turns the nation into pill-popping hypochondriacs, it distracts from Pharma’s drought of real drugs for real medical problems.
Of course, not all diseases are Wall Street pleasers. To be a true blockbuster disease, a condition must (1) really exist but have huge diagnostic “wiggle room” and no clear-cut test, (2) be potentially serious with “silent symptoms” said to “only get worse” if untreated, (3) be “underrecognized,” “underreported” with “barriers” to treatment, (4) explain hitherto vague health problems a patient has had, (5) have a catchy name — ED, ADHD, RLS, Low T or IBS — and instant medical identity, and (6) need an expensive new drug that has no generic equivalent.