Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Big Pharma Will Get You One Way or Another?

The reporter Gardiner Harris has always been valuable to my research, precisely because he tracks a lot of the good and bad of what psychiatrists do (probably more bad). Today he has a very interesting piece that exposes psychiatrists as earning the most money from drug makers--more than any other specialty in medicine. This might not be so bad, if it weren't for the fact that there is some evidence that these "drug maker gifts" influence prescribing habits. Harris reports that in Vermont, psychiatrists prescribed atypical antipsychotics to children the more they received from the drug companies that make these drugs.

In my writings and criticisms over the biotechnological age, I rarely take the "Psychopharmacological Calvinist" position, but rather find myself deeply disturbed by these political trends: how much big Pharma influences politics, how blatantly they bribe and co-opt psychiatrists, and how aggressively the advertise their wares to the average consumer which amounts to advertising "diseases." The Calvinist position--drugs are inauthentic--often combines with my more political concerns, but not always. I have been struggling to come up with a catchy name for my political concerns and how to better distinguish them from the Calvinist position.

While Big Pharma has enormous power over Washington, the FDA, the average consumer and the psychiatrists, I am loathe to see the consumer as a complete pawn to it. I want to give more credit to the consumer than many would, but one has to be very honest about the enormous power that Big Pharma has and how effectively it plays on the insecurities and frustrations of the average American.

What I have found, btw, when I discuss my concerns with psychiatrists is that they tend to lump the barrage of commercials for drugs in the same category of any consumer product. Marketers, I have heard them say, try to sell their goods to the average American by playing on their sense of inadequacy. The goal is to create in the consumer a problem, identify and name the problem, and then--voila--fix the problem. Clearly this dynamic is going on--par excellence--in drug commercials.

The question is whether something more insidious is happening when Big Pharma sells "Social Anxiety Disorder" vs. the iPhone? (Digression: While I find the commercials disturbing in their portrayal of male sexualilty, I almost prefer the advertisements for the non-pharmaceutical male enhancement drugs that make plain their all about late night sex after lots of drinking vs. the "erectile dysfunction" hogwash).

Here are my questions to readers:
(1) How much agency do consumers have given the powerful tools of manipulation of Big Pharma?
(2) What are the effective strategies that such consumers use to weed out the "unnecessary" use of drugs from the effective use?
(3) Is there something more insidious about marketing "Social Anxiety Disorder" vs. the iPhone?