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Pharma is 'disease mongering' claim studies

Marketing once more under the cosh from scientists who accuse it of inventing and over-exaggerating illnesses

The pharmaceutical industry's marketing machine has come under attack from researchers who claim it is guilty of inventing diseases or exaggerating their seriousness to sell medicines.

In a collection of papers published in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine, (PLSM), scientists argue that conditions such as menopause and sexual dysfunction are being publicised by companies who then reveal the medicines they say will treat them.

In one report, authors David Henry and Ray Moynihan said rare conditions such as restless leg syndrome and mild problems of irritable bowel syndrome were exaggerated.

ìDisease-mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments,î said the report. ìIt is exemplified most explicitly by many pharmaceutical industry-funded disease awareness campaigns - more often designed to sell drugs than to illuminate or to inform or educate about the prevention of illness or the maintenance of health.î

They added that pharma marketing departments were often able to ìcrudely manipulateî the motives of health professionals and health advocacy groups to boost sales of medicines.

In another report, Dr Joel Lexchin from York University in Toronto, alleges that Pfizer devised ways to ensure that its erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra ìwas seen as a legitimate therapy for almost any manî.

In a statement, Pfizer UK said it ìonly promotes prescription medicines to healthcare professionals and only in line with its licensed indications. Pfizer does not promote any of its prescription medicines to the general public and does not recommend, or promote the use of Viagra, outside of its licensed indications.î

In another paper, David Healy, director of the department of psychosocial medicine at the University of Wales, Bangor, cites a disease awareness advert by Eli Lilly as actively marketing bipolar disorder.

ìThe advert can be read as a genuine attempt to alert people who may be suffering from one of the most debilitating and serious psychiatric diseases-manic-depressive illness,î he wrote. ìAlternatively, the advert can be read as an example of what has been termed 'disease mongering'.î

In response, Lilly said ìthe advert that Dr Healy refers to was not designed for and was not shown to the general public in the UK.î

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry spokesman, Richard Ley, told the BBC that the PLSM research was focused on the US market, where the industry has much more freedom to promote its products directly to patients.

ìIt is not right to say the industry invents diseases, we don't,î he said. ìIt is up to doctors to decide what treatment to give people, we can't tell them.î

30th September 2008

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