Monday, 30 August 2010

"There's a pill for that" - Big Pharma and the medicalisation of society's ills


Dr Petra tweeted this article from The Drum about the medicalisation of low libido in women and, more significantly, the manner in which drug companies mis-use research to provide supposed evidence for their products.

However, this article in The Drum shows how the companies take a further step:

Virtually unheard of not so long back, FSD burst onto the global stage in 1999, with bizarre but widely trumpeted claims it affected 43 percent of women. Viagra had just been approved for men, and as sales soared, the fantasies of pharmaceutical executives soon turned to a similar mass market among women.

Sex researchers, for a long time locked outside the hallowed halls of the health establishment, were suddenly inundated with offers of fine food, flattery and funding, from the friendly folks in pharma, and a new science of sexual medicine was born. Over the next 10 years companies with obligations to shareholders to widen the numbers of people defined as sick, and narrow the solutions offered to them, would not just sponsor the science of FSD, on occasions they would actually help to create it.

Corporate staff would participate in scientific conferences where the uncertain nature of FSD was hotly debated; companies would orchestrate surveys to prove how widespread sexual problems were; and perhaps most chillingly, company employees would help design the diagnostic tools used to label otherwise healthy women as disordered, opening the pathway to long-term treatment with costly and potentially harmful medicines.

And at the centre of all this sponsored science was the special long-term relationship between a small circle of senior researchers and a powerful industry whose sales are approaching a trillion dollars a year. In 2000, when a key definition of FSD was published - with claims it affected up to one in every two women - 18 of the 19 'thought leaders' who wrote it had financial ties to a total of more than 20 companies.

This process seems eerily familiar to those who have studied the medicalisation of smoking (or rather nicotine replacement therapies and drugs). First identify a real problem such as that smoking increases cancer risks or that some women have lower levels of sexual drive and then turn that problem into one with a medical solution. This is achieved by the subborning of researchers and, if this isn't always possible, setting up front organisations or even conducting your own 'research'.

More recently it's been the turn of the German drug company Boehringer Ingelheim to construct this science, its paid consultants 'educating' doctors, its staff helping produce yet another survey finding widespread suffering, and employees helping design the tools to diagnose the condition. The Decreased Sexual Desire Screener is a simple five-item questionnaire, launched last year by the company as a 'new, easy to use' diagnostic tool to assess women with HSDD - the target condition for the company's experimental sex drug, a failed anti-depressant which affects the brain's chemistry. That's right … a drug company is helping to design a diagnostic instrument to label women with a disorder, so they can qualify for that same company's drug

We really should be very concerned that pharmaceutical companies, aided and abetted by governments and by the medical establisment are activiely seeking to medicalise all society's ills - smoking, drinking, not enough (or too much) sex, eating too much or too little, not exercising enough and all the regular depressive conditions that come with life's downs.

As someone once said: "there's a pill for that!"


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