The Fashioning Of A Sickness Market

Critics of psychiatry have an expression for designing a disease to fit the drug, and that expression is disease mongering. Wikipedia has a page up on the subject.

Disease mongering is a pejorative term for the practice of widening the diagnostic boundaries of illnesses, and promoting public awareness of such, in order to expand the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments, which may include pharmaceutical companies, physicians, and other professional or consumer organizations. Examples include male-type baldness and certain social phobias.

Now what has been characterized as the buzzword for 2010 on one blog post is an expression with essientially the same meaning in a non-pejorative sense, and that expression is disease-branding. Drug company officials actually use disease-branding to describe their marketing techniques. There was a CNN special done on the subject called How to brand a disease — and sell a cure very recently.

Just as [Edward] Bernays sold pianos by selling the music room, pharmaceutical marketers now sell drugs by selling the diseases that they treat….

To brand a disease is to shape its public perception in order to make it more palatable to potential patients. Panic disorder, reflux disease, erectile dysfunction, restless legs syndrome, bipolar disorder, overactive bladder, ADHD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, even clinical depression: All these conditions were once regarded as rare until a marketing campaign transformed the brand.

Let me run that last sentence past you again just in case you didn’t catch it the first time.

All these conditions were once regarded as rare until a marketing campaign transformed the brand.

Rare means not so many people had the condition. Given a little effective drug company marketing, suddenly occurances of this or that “disease” have grown as common as mushrooms in the woods.

When you consider that a condition such as ADHD has become quite common, is described as co-occuring with other disorders, and is often given a poor prognosis, you can see how ethically questionable this disease-branding becomes. One imagines many of those co-occuring disorders may be brand diseases as well.

Shyness has made it’s entry into the medical lexicon also through such disease mongering. When Paxil gained approval by the FDA for the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder then the time had come to market shyness as a disease which the drug could remedy.

The downside of this market manipulation is that most all of the drugs sold for these in large measure illusory conditions have detrimental side-effects, and a potential to do considerable harm to the person who uses them. Additionally, you have a rising debilitated population, and drug company marketing campaigns have in many ways been directly responsible for this increase in disability.