Drug firms 'hype up diseases to boost sales'

Daily Mail | 11th April 2006
By Richard Shears

Drug companies are inventing diseases to sell more of their products, it has been claimed. Scientists have accused major pharmaceutical firms of "medicalising" problems like high cholesterol or the symptoms of the menopause in a bid to increase profits. 

Experts from around the world will meet in Australia today to discuss what they have labelled "disease-mongering". 

The group, which includes experts from Britain, will gather in Newcastle, New South Wales, where researchers have been examining the issue. David Henry and Ray Moynihan, of Newcastle University, claim the industry is exaggerating conditions and turning them into something more serious.

Female sexual dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and "restless legs" syndrome have all been promoted by the pharmaceutical industry in the hope of selling more drugs, they say.

High cholesterol and osteoporosis-are being described as diseases in their own right, the researchers claim, turning healthy people into patients. In turn, this wastes precious resources and can cause medically-induced harm.

Drugs prescribed for 'shyness'

Even shyness is routinely presented as a "social anxiety disorder" resulting in the person being prescribed anti-depressants.

In the case of male sexual disfunction, the researchers say, Viagra is promoted as not only a genuine treatment for erectile dysfunction but also a lifestyle improver. The two men make their claims in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal.

They accuse drug companies of funding disease-awareness campaigns through the media that are more about selling drugs than helping or educating the public.

"Like the marketing strategies that drive it, disease-mongering poses a global challenge to those interested in public health, demanding in turn a global response," they say.

Mr Moynihan and Mr Henry say that, in their view, disease mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows markets for those who sell and deliver treatments.

"It is exemplified most explicitly by many pharmaceutical industryfunded 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," they add. Conference organisers say they will try to draw a line between "market-driven exercises and legitimate disease-awareness programmes". 'Miracle solutions'

Drugs companies hit back last night. GlaxoSmithKline said: "We pride ourselves in providing miracle solutions to the health care needs of people every day. 

"We utterly refute any suggestion that we would in any way hype or overplay the very real needs of patients that are treated all over the world.

"One of the exciting things about medical science is that we are finding new solutions to ailments or problems people have, and this is something good we can offer." Pfizer, which makes Viagra, said: "We would refute accusations that the pharmaceutical industry is medicalising society. Treatments that can make serious and potentially life-threatening conditions better should surely be welcomed.

"Pfizer would only promote prescription medicines to health care professionals, and only in line with what licensing bodies have outlined, for them to use their clinical judgment."