I just read a review of Selling Sickness (published in the July/August issue of the ACP Journal Club) and thought you might be interested to read this and other reviews of this book. [Link to more reviews at the end of this post.]
See also A Collection of Articles on Disease Mongering; Ethics and the Pharmaceutical Industry; Pharma fears and “Sicko” [on Michael Moore's new film, from Sue Pelletier's Capsules]
Moynihan R, Cassels A. Selling Sickness: How the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are turning us all into patients. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2005.
An excerpt from the review:
Thirty years ago, Henry Gadsden, chief executive of Merck, told Fortune magazine he wanted Merck “to be more like chewing gum maker Wrigley’s.”
Gadsden said it had long been his dream to make drugs for healthy people, because then Merck would be able to “sell to everyone.” This is the starting point and central thesis of Moynihan and Cassels’ book, Selling Sickness—that pharmaceutical companies are working to turn us all into patients, and in the process generate ever-bigger profits for themselves (and ever-greater health care costs for health care systems). They make a compelling case that big pharma has deliberately used its influence to broaden disease definitions to expand its markets. For example, they report that GlaxoSmithKline (formerly SmithKline Beecham) has claimed that social anxiety disorder (SAD) affects 1 in 8 Americans. Other definitions put the prevalence variously at < 1% or, in some studies, up to 4%. By more broadly defining the criteria for SAD, the pharmaceutical company created a greatly expanded market for its drug Paxil, the first drug approved for the treatment of SAD.
The reviewer concludes:
Most of the examples and the citations are American. The
United States has < 5% of the world’s population but 50% of the global market in prescription drugs. Cassels is Canadian, and Moynihan is Australian. Both of these countries are protected against the full force of big pharma by having publicly funded health systems and evidence-based agencies that make decisions about provision of prescription medicines. Furthermore, unlike the
United States, these countries have limited direct-to-consumer advertising. Nevertheless, this book is informative and alarming reading regardless of where you live. The authors claim, and I agree with them, that along with regulatory and advertising controls, a major antidote to selling sickness is skepticism—of drug industry claims and drug company–funded research. Evidence-based medicine has a big role to play in maintaining balance between the important benefits of appropriately used prescription drugs and the risks for unsubstantiated claims and promotions by the industry.