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How drug companies 'sell sickness' to boost sales


August 2015

What if you thought for years that you were in danger of dying from heart disease and stroke from high blood pressure? And what if you were taking powerful blood pressure drugs – which come loaded with dangerous side effects. And then what if several years later you found out you were never at risk for heart disease or stroke to start with, and you'd been taking those dangerous drugs for nothing?

We don't know for certain how many Americans were in this very position when a recent article in the New York Times suggested that as many as 100 million people who've been told they're at risk for heart disease may not be at risk at all. But we do know that a new study shows that trying to lower blood pressure too much can actually increase your risk of both heart problems and death!


The current definition of normal blood pressure was created in 2003 by the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Saturated with drug industry conflicts of interest, this panel decided that relatively low blood pressure readings were a risk for heart disease. They acknowledged the new affliction – dubbed PREHYPRETENSION – didn't necessarily equate to a need for medication. But as the New York Times reported, they still urged doctors:

"…to take high blood pressure more seriously, and treat it more aggressively, often with more than one drug."

And that's how an additional 45 million people, and millions more over the years, were suddenly labeled "ABNORMAL" and in need of "treatment" for a condition that didn't exist in medical literature until that panel met. What's disturbing is that other so-called non-biased professionals not on the committee, but with obvious conflicts of interest, joined the panel's call for aggressive treatment by suggesting that everyone over age 55 automatically TAKE DRUGS for heart disease!


It's quite similar to what happened in 2001, when the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute lowered the guidelines for cholesterol levels, categorizing an additional 23 million Americans as in need of "aggressive treatment" with statins; another drug with dangerous side effects. Eight of the nine authors of these new guidelines had financial ties to statin makers.


Again, it's hard to guess how many people since then have been taking blood pressure drugs and statins unnecessarily just because their doctors chose to treat them "aggressively." But what's criminal is that these are just two examples of how drug companies can boost sales by covertly influencing how normally benign conditions are defined and treated.

In their book, "Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients," Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels talk about the "perverted truth" of how Big Pharma helps create diseases by influencing how treatment standards are set. The problem is so pervasive that it's hard to conceive just how many unnecessary drugs the world may be taking, the authors say.


Attention Deficit Disorder – In 1960 there were hardly any children diagnosed with, let alone treated for, attention deficit disorder. But once children’s normal behavior (inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity) was categorized as a mental disorder called attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and therefore drug treatable, the use of psychostimulants to “control” these behaviors increased six-fold. In the 1990s, there was a 700 percent increase in drugs prescribed for ADHD. Today, state attorneys general are busy suing drug companies for illegal marketing tactics that put millions of children on these drugs.

This accomplishment was achieved in part by drug companies “partnering” with or sponsoring ADHD support groups, befriending prescribing physicians, and through heavy marketing, Moynihan and Cassels assert. And they’re not far off – numerous psychiatry blogs and studies accuse the industry of unduly causing an ADHD “epidemic.” And now that adult ADHD is a household word the epidemic is getting even larger.

Depression – With an onslaught of new drugs and plenty of new disorders defining sadness, the DSM (psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and its industry-connected creators have managed to make depression drugs a $50-billion-a-year business. In 2006, 100 percent of the DSM’s Mood Disorders panel had drug industry ties; 56 percent of all the DSM panels had financial ties to industry. Lawsuits in this category are bountiful too.


Another way drug companies "sell" sickness is DISEASE MONGERING through advertising direct-to-consumer (DTC) . In a 60-second TV commercial and a simple line like "Tell someone" (Merck's 2006 introductory ad for its HPV vaccine, Gardasil) a company can kindle consumers' interest  in a product even before the FDA allows them to market it. Critics call this tactic disease mongering, but Big Pharma calls it disease awareness. Whichever, the strategy is to create demand and sell the product – and ultimately pay dividends to stockholders.

The business of drug companies is to treat you, not make you well. In Merck's case, DTC advertising did well for stockholders – earning $1.5 billion in sales in its first year.


In a 2003 commentary called "The Art of Branding a Condition," marketing professional Vince Parry outlined three steps for creating a need for Big Pharma products. To get a guaranteed bottom line for sales, all you need to do, he said, is adopt one or more of the following strategies:

  1. Elevate the importance of an existing condition
  2. Redefine an existing condition to reduce a stigma
  3. Develop a new condition to build recognition for an unmet market need

Here's an example: Listerine mouthwahs in the 1920s had been around for a while, but sales were flat until the companycalled it a cure for a foul-sounding condition – HALITOSIS. With a new name, the stigma of bad breath caught on, and Listerine sales skyrocketed from $100,000 to $4 million over a six-year period. That is what you call "effective branding.

Scary-sounding diseases today are premenstrual problems, heartburn and impotence. With their new names of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and erectile dysfunction, these once-benign afflictions have been transformed into serious illnesses with insurance billing codes and expensive prescription drug treatments – all to the tune of billions of dollars in annual revenues for Big Pharma.


Quite possibly, one of the biggest epidemics ever created in the medical world is mental illness. From the practice of turning shyness into a social phobia to diagnosing babies with schizophrenia to the off-label prescribing of psychotropic drugs to both children and the elderly, the branding of various forms of mental illness has been a Big Pharma cash cow for years.

Breaking News: Former APA Head Admits Facilitating Epidemics:

"Watching the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) balloon in size over the decades to its current phonebook dimensions would have us believe that the world is a more unstable place today than ever."… Not surprisingly, many of these newly coined conditions were brought to light through direct funding by pharmaceutical companies, in research, in publicity or both."

Hearing it straight from a former chief of the American Psychiatric Association, who admits that some of the "mistakes" the APA made in its diagnostic manual have had "terrible consequences," which have mislabeled millions of children and adults, and facilitated epidemics of mental illness that don't exist.


Governments mandate health policy because they believe you can't think for yourself to get WELL and stay well. Endless studies prove that invasive health measures like vaccines and screening tests such as annual mammograms are NOT the best preventive measures yet the U.S. government has a litany of reasons why they "know better than you".

Our government has failed us in almost every area when it comes to making us better.

1. We must give up passive acceptance of government's intrusion into our health and taking a proactive approach instead with a plan for dodging sickness and disease.The power to take control of your health is in your own hands.

2. Following good health measures in your diet and daily routine is cheaper that out-of-pocket expenses for treating sickness and disease. Make a few easy lifestyle changes, beginning with a good nutrition plan.


4. Add peak fitness exercise to it, and you're on the road to good health. Follow up with other good health measures such as getting a good night's sleep and learning how to instill positive emotions that ensure good mental health, and you'll be on the right track to getting and staying well, no matter how many new illnesses industry thinks up and sells!

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