Tag Archives: pharmaceutical industry

Have pharmaceutical companies replaced tobacco companies as America’s number 1 killer?

Did you see the CNN special on prescription drugs (Deadly Dose: A Dr. Sanjay Gupta Investigation)?

Here are just two of the many interesting facts that came out during the segment;

  • 90% of the world’s opiate prescription drugs are consumed in the U.S and
  • between 1997 and 2007 the prescription of opioids increased more than 600%.

For those of you who have followed my coverage of the pharmaceutical industry starting with my 2009 post “Antipsychotic Prescriptions . . . for Children: Is the Medicaid Story Today’s Version of Go Ask Alice?,” in which I discussed the prescribing of these powerful drugs to children between the ages of 3 and 17, you will know that my research points to some pretty shocking revelations.

This being said I have to admit that the rate at which Americans consume painkillers caught me somewhat by surprise.  I am not talking about the fact that America is the biggest user of prescription pills mind you.  What I am referring to is the sheer numbers which tend to show a country that is out of control . . . medically speaking.

However, and eerily similar to a pusher of illegal drugs, the pharmaceutical industry representative that Gupta interviewed did a obvious bob and weave evasion in terms of answering the question regarding the industry’s role in facilitating the epidemic.  I only wish that Gupta had been more direct by putting out the question regarding the commonplace practice of off-label marketing that provides physicians with the incentive to over-prescribe drugs.

In January I will be airing a special in which I will talk with health industry experts about this growing problem.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts?  Has the pharmaceutical industry taken over from the tobacco industry as the biggest threat to the health of Americans?

The old drug of choice . . .

The old drug of choice . . .



Does the pharmaceutical industry influence doctor diagnosis of mental illness? (Part 1 of 2)

As I have come to read more and more about you and of course spend some time on your blog I find that you have an edge that enables you to provide a different take on mental illness Natalie.

One thing that stands out and on which I would like to get your feedback centers on the reference to 1 in 4 people living with mental illness.

Specifically I have been covering the pharmaceutical industry extensively over the past few years in both articles and on my radio show.

One post that stands out referenced the fact that in 2006 close to $7 billion (which represented the single largest expenditure through Medicaid that year) in anti-psychotic drugs was prescribed to patients – many of whom were children between the ages of 3 and 17 years old.

Here is the question . . . it is clear that between the above statistics and the significant amount of off-label marketing done by pharmaceutical companies that it is in their interest for people to be diagnosed with an illness.

Does this mean that the 1 in 4 finding is potentially skewed to reflect pharmaceutical industry interest as opposed to reflecting an actual situation.

After all, doctors and their prescribing practice is likely influenced by big pharma.

What do you think?

By the way, here is the link to the above referenced article titled “Antipsychotic Prescriptions . . . for Children: Is the Medicaid Story Today’s Version of Go Ask Alice? (UPDATE for 2011)

The following is a question that I posted to Natalie Jeanne Champagne’s blog Healthy Place: Recovering From Mental Illness in which she states “If one in four people, at some point in their lives, live with mental illness we are in large company. Albeit probably not happy company, but company nonetheless.”

What prompted my query was a comment made by Andy Behrman during a recent interview when he suggested that the pharmaceutical industry’s focus is on driving sales as opposed to treating people with an illness. For those who may not be familiar with Behrman, he is the author of the book Electroboy; A Memoir of Mania that is slated to become a major motion picture in 2013.

A few days after the show, I came across an article that indicated that a study was championing Seroquel – a powerful anti-psychotic drug used to treat Bipolar Disorder, as a cure for the fear of public speaking and social phobia.

The study, which was the result of a collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota and AstraZeneca (who is the drug’s creator), clearly sets off a number of alarms. Similar to the sentiment expressed by the Ruth Stafford Peale axiom of finding a need and filling it, the company appears to be creating a need or illness and filling it . . . with a prescription of Seroquel.

There are a number of serious questions this raises besides the obvious ones regarding a cash grab.

For example, what impact do this broadening of the drug’s use have on doctor diagnosis of mental illness? Even more interesting is how does this affect treatment and recovery of people who actually suffer from a mental illness within the framework or context of traditional diagnosis?

Think about this last point for a moment . . . if mental illness becomes normalized in terms of encompassing more of the populace, then are we not redefining the boundaries for what is in fact good mental health – and the responsibilities this implies?

As a result, does the at times defiant outcry from those suffering from (or claiming to) suffer from a mental illness, that they are not alone because many people are part of the struggle, provide a platform of justification that hinders as opposes to helping the treatment process. After all, some may reason that if half the people I know are on Seroquel or for that matter any other anti-psychotic drug, maybe I am not really as ill as I think I am.

The danger of course is that those who truly do deal with a mental illness are often times in denial and less likely to stay on a prescribed medication, while those who use the drugs as an escape are likely to become regular paying customers.

In Part 2 of this series I will examine these as well as the other possible implications of an industry whose apparent main objective is not to cure but to perpetually treat.


The “you just proved that bench advertising works” axiom doesn’t when it comes to cigarette package warning labels

Nothing like pictures of rotting teeth or blackened lungs to put a damper on a sunny day. Let alone the fact that such images, even though scientifically and medically proven to be true, is a violation of free speech! At least this is what five of the six major tobacco companies are claiming as they determinedly fight the U.S. Government’s decision to follow Canada’s lead by making it a requirement for nicotine peddlers to include graphic images relating to the hazards of smoking on all packages of cigarettes. The new regulation is scheduled to take effect October 2012.

Killing the mood?

Regarding the existing health hazard labels, a 1981 Federal Trade Commission finding indicated that “there is virtually no evidence that the current warning statement on cigarette packages has had any significant effect,” as a deterrent to those who already smoke. I guess unlike the advertising taglines that adorn bus benches proclaiming that if you are reading the message it must mean that the advertiser is getting through, warning labels on smokes ultimately fall on blind eyes or deaf ears . . .

Perhaps the tobacco companies need to employ a counter measure along the lines of what the pharmaceutical companies do regarding the requirement to disclose the nasty side effects of some the drugs they are peddling? You know, the commercials where a visual scene of tranquility is framed by a relaxing and melodious tune during which time a pleasant voiced narrator provides a litany of potentially life threatening side effects. A classic slight of hand deception that entices us to keep our eyes on the shiny object and ignore the unpleasantness of truth.

While the traditional airwaves have been cut-off as a possible venue for such a ploy, perhaps the tobacco companies could create a campaign similar to the Canadian Dairy Industry a few years back where winning cartons of milk would actually make a mooing sound announcing to the lucky consumer that they had just won a pile of money! Of course instead of money, the puff and wheeze campaign could provide free lifetime dental coverage or offer a free ventilator system. Talk about making lemonade from lemons!

Who knows, given the health care controversy in America these past few years, the tobacco companies may even entice non-smokers to start smoking, especially if they offered health coverage giveaways for individuals and companies. If you think about it, it’s a great system in terms of driving America’s economic engine in that it is a self-perpetuating revenue stream that keeps the money flowing into key agriculture and medical industries.

As for those nasty images of morbid decay, smokers can also follow the lead of their cousins to the north and invest in cigarette-pack sleeves to cover up the unpleasant consequences of their filthy habits. Similar to my 3 year old son who, during a game of hide and seek, stands in one place and closes his eyes believing that if he can’t see us then we can’t see him, the out of sight out of mind approach should quell any residual reservations for those determined to light up regardless of the consequences.

Would you buy and use a product with this label?