Selling Sickness

How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us All into Patients

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Selling Sickness" is worth reading

'Selling Sickness' is worth reading
Thursday, September 29, 2005
By Nancy Norkiewicz/Get the Beat, The Star

OK, so I admit it. I'm one of those people who doesn't even consider taking an aspirin until my head feels like it's about to explode. So when I sat down to watch a movie the other night on television I was totally blown away by the seemingly endless array of drug advertisements being pitched to consumers. More than that, it seemed as though some of the medical conditions were completely far-fetched, or possibly even made up.

Now, I don't normally watch a lot of TV, but I'm certain the last time I did there wasn't nearly the volume of commercials designed to entice people into believing that they have one or more of the new medical conditions that there are now. If you think that I'm being overly skeptical then you should know I'm not the only one suspicious of this overmedication of America. In researching this specific topic I came across a new book written by award-winning medical writer Ray Moynihan and drug policy researcher Alan Cassels.

The book, entitled "Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All into Patients," takes a closer look at our nation's growing obsession and reliance on "lifestyle" medications. In their words, the big pharmaceutical companies are trying to trick us into believing that we all have certain diseases and that the drugs they sell are the only answer to these problems.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for medications that help people with illnesses that can be controlled or improved with medication. Think how far we've come in terms of treatments and medications for some of the most serious diseases and disorders. Many people would not be alive today if it weren't for the advancements we've made in the field of medicine. But making conditions seem far worse than they really are and stretching the symptoms to include the largest possible demographic group of potential users is ludicrous and just plain wrong.

My family physician is outraged at the strong messages that are being sent to consumers. He gets calls all of the time from patients who learn about a certain condition on television, convinced that they have the disease because they may appear to have one or more of the general symptoms described on a commercial. It probably has something to do with the way Americans have come to rely on the quick fix, seeking out a pill for every little discomfort. So, what's a suspicious consumer to do? How can you determine if a claim is legitimate or not, and if applies to you or your loved ones?

For starters, experts recommend asking lots of questions before agreeing to accept a prescription. Make sure you know the specifics of certain conditions and what medications are recommended for it. Talk with your physician extensively about the condition to decide if the medication is the best and only option for you. Determine if there are other approaches that can be taken to cure what ails you aside from drugs, such as exercise, diet, stress management, etc. Do some research to see if the medication you are considering taking has been helpful to people with similar characteristics to you such as sex, age, and severity of the condition you are being treated for.

There are several Web addresses that can help you research some of this information. Two of the best are: which offers in-depth analysis of both new and older medications, and which is the Consumer Reports' new site developed to provide consumers like us information about effectiveness of certain drugs.

It's time we take back our health and be more in charge of the medications we end up taking. Don't let sales happy drug companies con you into believing you need a prescription that you really don't. Remember, asking questions and educating yourself is power in that you can work with your doctor to better deal with certain conditions . Because ultimately the purpose of medicine is to benefit the individual consumer, not the individual drug company.