Let’s say you’ve invented a new gadget and you want to manufacture and sell it. Only problem is, it does something that nobody needs.
There was a point in history, not all that long ago, when you’d wisely move on to your next invention. But with the age of advertising a new option was created. By placing manipulative ads in newspapers, on the radio, or on television, you can do more than just let people know that your product exists; you can convince them they need it.
Imagine now that your invention caused physical harm to those who bought and used it. What if it made them nauseous, dizzy, unable to drive or think straight, or caused spontaneous bone fractures? That would be immoral, right?
Yet it’s happening right this moment all over the world. Big Pharma regularly patents new drugs that wind up in the medicine cabinets of millions of people– people who do not need the drug they’ve been convinced to take, but who suffer dangerous side effects in exchange for an often illusory benefit. Osteoporosis drugs, such as Fosamax and Boniva, are good examples.
Today we’ll look at two drugs that were created for invented diseases, at the meaning of disease mongering, and more.
What Is Disease Mongering?
The phrase disease mongering was coined by medical and science writer Lynn Payer in her 1992 book “Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick.” Payer defined this deceitful practice as “trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill.” That was 25 years ago, and it has only gotten worse since then.
While there are various ways to disease monger, the reason is always the same: profit. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are for-profit, most often publicly traded companies. They aim to show earnings to their stockholders, so they’re under pressure to keep creating new drugs, as older drugs lose their patent.
One of the earliest examples of disease mongering is Listerine, invented in 1879 and used as an antiseptic and even a floor cleaner before its creators figured out how they could sell it. After marketing it to dentists for in-office oral care, they started selling it directly to consumers. Except that consumers didn’t need it. So the creators invented a disease that their product “cured”: halitosis, which is nothing but bad breath.
The name halitosis was borrowed from antiquated medical texts and paraded as a disease that could have dire consequences for your personal and professional life. By taking advantage of people’s insecurities, and through the creation of manipulative soap-opera-like commercials, Listerine turned into a sought after remedy for a previously non-existent malady.
The same method is applied by Big Pharma today, and it’s incredibly profitable. For every dollar Big Pharma spends on advertising directly to consumers they make about $4.20 in sales. That turnaround really adds up over the millions and millions of dollars spent on advertising.1
As a result, drug mongering becomes the primary activity of companies that claim to be focused on research and development. Of the 100 largest pharmaceutical companies, 64 spent at least double the amount of money on marketing than on research and development, 58 spent triple, 43 spent five times as much, and 27 spent ten times as much.1 These companies claim to be in the business of curing diseases, but the facts show that a big portion of their business is actually inventing them.
Drug Mongering And Osteoporosis
This story should sound familiar to Savers: when the pharmaceutical giant Merck first isolated the drug that became Fosamax, there was no market for it. There was no disease that it could treat. Instead of moving on to the next idea, they decided to engineer osteoporosis, and then osteopenia, through intensive lobbying, influence, and manipulation of the Medical Establishment.
The Save Our Bones Program clearly states that osteoporosis is not a disease. The rejection of the pathologizing of osteoporosis is an important first step towards actually addressing the true cause of bone loss and making the lifestyle changes required to reverse it. Here is the definition of osteoporosis given in the Program:
“A condition of the skeletal system, common in middle aged and older individuals, mainly caused by the body’s attempt to correct an unhealthy biochemical imbalance by utilizing the calcium that should normally remain in the bones, causing bone density loss. However, unless certain abnormal endocrine and/or gastrointestinal conditions are present, the biochemical imbalance may be corrected by diet and lifestyle changes.”
Osteoporosis drugs don’t even accomplish their goal of reducing fractures. In fact one of the side effects of Fosamax is atypical fractures. A drug causing more problems than it solves is a tragic pattern in the story of disease mongering.
Sometimes when people first hear this information they are shocked, and reluctant to believe that the Medical Establishment could be complicit in something so brazen and shameful. But sadly, it’s true, and it’s not just limited to mouthwash and bone health.
We can better understand, and thus recognize, this foul play by examining other cases. Let’s have a look at two other examples of disease mongering: Dry Eye Disease and Restless Leg Syndrome.
The Invention Of Dry Eye “Disease”
Many people experience the sensation of their eyes feeling dry at certain times or under certain conditions. The Mayo Clinic explains that this happens when the tear ducts aren’t able to provide adequate lubrication, which leads to temporary discomfort especially when staring at a screen for too long, riding a bike, or when in a heavily air-conditioned room.2
As with every physical trait, some people may have an anomalously severe version, but this would be a very small fraction of the populace. For those people, a product to lubricate the eyes makes sense. But to make billions of dollars off patented eye drops, a much larger market is needed. This is where disease mongering comes into play.
Here’s a commercial for Allergan’s prescription eye drop Restasis. Look out for the hallmarks of drug mongering: labelling a condition a “disease”, convincing viewers it’s harmful, and insistence that the only course of action is pharmaceutical.
It’s no wonder that people are convinced by slick commercials like the above that their life could be improved through the use of a drug, even though it might have side effects, or create the risk of infection, as in the case of Restasis. Here’s a list of the side effects that Allergan has publically disclosed:3
- eye burning,
- visual blurring, or
- feeling as if something is in the eye
In addition, cases have been reported of hypersensitivity (including eye swelling, urticaria, rare cases of severe angioedema, face swelling, tongue swelling, pharyngeal edema, and dyspnea); and superficial injury of the eye (from the vial tip touching the eye during administration).3
Allergan states on their website that there are other side effects that they don’t list. And all too frequently, pharmaceutical companies are found guilty of lying to people about the possibility of severe and often life threatening side effects. You’ll notice almost none of this is mentioned in the commercial above.
The creation of this “disease” has been so effective that the number of Restasis users has continued to grow. In a recent report, Allergan boasted the demand for this type of drug has grown 30% since last year.4
It doesn’t seem likely that 30% more people suddenly developed a condition so severe that they independently asked their doctor for a pharmaceutical intervention. Those people were convinced by advertising that they have a disease; one that was invented to sell a product.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a real neurological disorder that creates an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop an uncomfortable physical sensation. It’s also extremely rare, and about 60% of cases are inherited, so people who have this rare condition likely already knew they were at risk of it.5
GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second largest drug company, developed a drug called Requip that was intended to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Seeking further profit from a drug they had already developed, in 2005 they managed to get the drug approved for Restless Leg Syndrome.
Given the small number of people who suffer from RLS, this seems like an unproductive move, until you factor in the disease mongering GlaxoSmithKline knew it could accomplish. Anyone who feels restless for reasons that could have nothing to do with a condition could be convinced that this drug might improve their life.
What those people might really need is to drink less caffeine, get more exercise, change their lifestyle to accommodate more restful sleep, or accept that they tend to get restless and adjust their activities accordingly. What they don’t need is a prescription drug. Especially one with potentially harmful side effects.
Requip can result in dizziness, nausea, somnolence (falling asleep), viral infection and even hallucinations. But the way, these side effects are listed in the commercial below. Falling asleep at the wheel, developing a sudden gambling addiction, or suffering fainting spells is not a reasonable risk, but this commercial might make you feel otherwise.
This ad doesn’t even represent the full range of possible side effects. Here’s the staggering list of only the major problems that can arise when taking this drug.6
- dizziness, faintness, or lightheadedness when getting up from a lying or sitting position suddenly
- seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
- sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
- swelling of the legs
- twisting, twitching, or other unusual body movements
- unusual tiredness or weakness
- worsening of parkinsonism
- abdominal or stomach pain
- bloating or swelling of the face, arms, hands, lower legs, or feet
- blood in the urine
- blurred vision
- burning, pain, or difficulty in urinating
- chest pain
- cold sweats
- double vision or other eye or vision problems
- fear or nervousness
- feeling of constant movement of self or surroundings
- high or low blood pressure
- irregular or pounding heartbeat
- loss of memory
- mental depression
- pain in the arms or legs
- pounding in the ears
- rapid weight gain
- sensation of spinning
- slow or fast heartbeat
- sore throat
- tightness in chest
- tingling of hands or feet
- tingling, numbness, or prickly feelings
- trouble in concentrating
- troubled breathing
- unusual weight gain or loss
- buzzing or ringing in the ears
- changes in vision
- joint pain
- loss of bladder control
- muscle cramps, pain, or spasms
- nasal congestion
- runny nose
- trouble with swallowing
- unusual urges
That last one, “unusual urges,” demonstrates the deceit practiced by GlaxoSmithKline. It refers to a troubling pattern that emerged among people taking Requip: the development of severe gambling problems, shopping addictions and hypersexuality.
Many people have reported developing sudden uncontrollable gambling addictions that have drained their savings and strained their relationships. The personal accounts on message boards about these drugs are absolutely heartbreaking. Pharmaceutical companies have even been successfully sued by some sufferers who had their lives destroyed by the side effects of a drug that claimed merely to help them sleep more comfortably.