Big Pharm Invents Diseases

Malady mongers: How drug companies sell treatments by inventing diseases

Michael Walsh Reporter

Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty

The pharmaceutical industry’s image has been significantly damaged in recent years as the public discovered the role its aggressive marketing played in fueling the opioid epidemic. But the American people are still largely in the dark about what may be pharma’s most effective tactic for pushing drugs — marketing diseases.

There’s a substantial body of medical literature dating back to the early ’90s about the practice known as “disease mongering.” Pharmaceutical companies regularly pathologize everyday experiences, convince doctors that they are serious problems, tell a hypochondriacal public it needs help and offers the cure: a new drug. Against the onslaught of billions of dollars in marketing campaigns each year, however, researchers’ warnings about these tactics have gone largely unheeded.

To be clear: Pharmacology has helped countless people recover from illness or lead more productive lives. But the number of patients receiving any given drug is often greater than those who would benefit from it, and often includes people it could harm.

The United States was still the largest single pharmaceutical market in 2017, generating more than $450 billion of revenue. In contrast, all of Europe accounted for roughly $214 billion. U.S. pharmaceutical spending alone is double the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug.

Adriane Fugh-Berman, a professor of pharmacology at Georgetown University Medical Center, said the pharmaceutical industry medicalizes normal life by positing that a vague, highly relatable, everyday condition is

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