Antidepressants Rake In Billions While Patients Suffer

In a review of the book “Selling Sickness: How Drug Companies are Turning Us All into Patients” Phil Shannon reports about the pharmaceutical industries efforts to turn every day problems into diseases “treatable” by drugs. All in the name of profit.

Thirty years ago, the retiring head of the Merck pharmaceutical company told Fortune magazine that he was distressed that the market for his company’s drugs was limited to only sick people. If he could make drugs for healthy people, he would be able to “sell to everyone�. That dream is now coming true.

One of the reasons why the pharmaceutical industry has created a multi-billion dollar a year business, say Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels in Selling Sickness, is its strategy for selling new perceptions of disease to the healthy. Drug companies have marketed common complaints as frightening and widespread diseases. Of course for which they have the answer in a new drug.

In this article it talks about why mental health offers a field day for drug marketing. Depression, inflated to include people often just going through ordinary life experiences such as teenager angst, has been successfully sold as a chemical (serotonin) imbalance in the brain treatable by anti-depressants such as Prozac, despite the scientific debate over the causes, and therefore treatments, of depression. Anti-depressants, however, show only modest advantage over placebo drugs and carry with them serious side effects including, ironically, increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior among the young.

“Social anxiety disorder� is a pure marketing construct that has been so successfully promoted in the US as a disease affecting all those who may suffer shyness or uneasiness in social situations, that GSK’s anti-depressant Paxil, approved for its “treatment�, succeeded in outstripping sales of Prozac in 2002.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been another spectacular success story in transforming public perceptions about a mental health disorder. Psychiatrists on drug-company payrolls have sold a neurobiological explanation for ADHD, and scripts for amphetamine-based drugs such as Ritalin have soared. ADHD, however, is a condition whose prevalence is inappropriately expanded to encompass not just children with severe symptoms of hyperactivity or inattention, but a vastly greater number of kids who fidget and can’t sit still or who drift off in class. Prescribing lifelong speed to adults (whose “symptomsâ€? include that they “drum their fingersâ€?) has also been a marketing spin-off, “one obscenity too manyâ€?, says a livid Moynihan, “when each year millions of adults and children … will die early from preventable and treatable life-threatening diseasesâ€?.

Similarly, the drug company Lilly, seeking to save the profitability of its soon-to-be-off-patent and therefore less profitable Prozac, has turned pre-menstrual symptoms, which can be severely disabling for some women, into an entirely invented mental illness called “pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder�, claimed to affect 7% of women and treatable by Prozac (renamed Sarafem), with its exorbitant mark-up from its new patent-protected use.

Another marketing construct is “female sexual dysfunction�, a “disease� made to order for Proctor and Gamble’s testosterone patch. Testosterone is useful for the small numbers of women with chronic, biologically based sexual problems, but is useless and potentially harmful for the 43% of healthy women who report occasional lack of sexual desire and sexual performance anxiety.

To read the full review you can view it on the Green Left Weekly Website

The book is:

Selling Sickness: How Drug Companies are Turning Us All into Patients
By Ray Moynihan & Alan Cassels
Allen & Unwin, 2005
254 pages, $26.95 (pb)

For more information on psychiatric drugs, antidepressants and the FDA - visit

Tags: Anxiety, Depression, FDA and Psychiatric Drugs, Postpartum Depression, Psychiatric Drugs, Psychiatry, Drugs & Children

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