No matter what ails you, there’s a pill for it. And if nothing ails you, just wait. Pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs right now that just need a disease to treat. So let’s invent one! It’s what Big Pharma watchers call disease-mongering. For example, we used to call it laziness, but now we know that it’s really a medical condition called Motivational Deficiency Disorder. And don’t even get me started on Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder!
Need to take a pill for something, anything? We’ve got drugs for everything.
The term ‘disease-mongering’ was first coined by author Lynn Payer in the 1992 book Disease Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick. Ray Moynihan, Iona Heath and David Henry then wrote this in April of that same year in the British Medical Journal:
“Pharmaceutical companies sponsor diseases and promote them to both prescribers and consumers.
“There’s a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they’re sick. Some forms of medicalising ordinary life may now be better described as disease mongering: widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments.
“The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease.”
Moynihan and Henry wrote again in the April 2006 issue of the journal Public Library of Science Medicine:
“With most disorders or conditions, there will be a number of individuals who suffer severe forms of the problem, who will benefit greatly from treatment and may be helped enormously by the publicity and marketing given to both the treatment and the disorder.”
They point, for example, to the valuable industry-funded awareness-raising about the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
But in other cases, they warn:
“What an industry-linked professional group may consider to be legitimate public education about an underdiagnosed disease, an activist group free from industry sponsorship may regard as a crude attempt to build markets for potentially dangerous drugs.” Disease-mongering means:
- that normal aspects of ordinary life (like menopause) are being medicalised
- that mild problems are portrayed as serious illnesses (like the drug-company-sponsored promotion of irritable bowel syndrome)
- that risk factors (like high cholesterol and osteoporosis) are being framed as diseases
“The Eli Lilly-sponsored promotion of premenstrual dysphoric disorder to help sell a re-branded version of fluoxetine (same old Prozac but now called Sarafem) is a case in point. Considered by some as a serious psychiatric illness, premenstrual dysphoric disorder is regarded by others as a condition that does not exist.”
Read the full article on disease-mongering in the Public Library of Science Medicine.