Don’t Fall for These Pharma Scare Tactics

May 11, 2017

Long before the Internet and direct-to-consumer advertising, the medical profession tried to reassure people about their health concerns. Remember “take two aspirins and call me in the morning”?

Flash forward to today’s online “symptom checkers”––quizzes to see if someone has a certain disease and exhortations to see their doctor even if they feel fine. Once Pharma discovered that health fears and even hypochondria sell drugs, there seems to be no end to the new diseases, symptoms and risks people need to worry about.

In fact, since drug ads began on TV, Americans take so many drugs it inspires satirical T-shirts like the one that says  “I take aspirin for the headache caused by the Zyrtec.
I take for the hay fever I got from Relenza for the uneasy stomach from the Ritalin. I take for the short attention span caused by the Scopoderm. I take for the motion sickness I got from the Lomotil.
I take for the diarrhea caused by the Xenical for the uncontrolled weight gain from the Paxil. I take for the anxiety from Zocor. I take for my high cholesterol because exercise, a good diet and regular chiropractic care are just too much trouble.”

Here are some of the ways Pharma uses fear to keep the public buying drugs.

1. Fear of Aging and Losing Sex Appeal

Hormone replacement therapy which millions of women took until 15 years ago was officially marketed to stop hot flashes and keep bones strong. But unofficially it was marketed as a way of staying young and sexy and marketed by glamorous models and actresses.  Early HRT ads told women they had “outlived their ovaries” and not kept up with their husbands who wanted younger looking women. More recently, “Low T” drug advertising tells men the same thing. According to Pharma, people don’t lose hormones because they age they age because they lose hormones.

2. Fear of Everyday Symptoms

Once upon a time people with heartburn took Tums. Alka-Seltzer or Maalox and vowed not to eat so much. They did not worry they really had Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), were on their way to cancer of the esophagus and take proton pump inhibitors like Nexium for the rest of their lives. Similarly, having the blues over problems with marriage, family, jobs or finances was not termed “depression.” Nor were energetic little boys immediately said to be suffering from ADHD.

3. Fear of New Diseases

From the aggressive marketing of  Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Non-24-hour Sleep Wake Disorder to Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) Pharma raises fears about obscure diseases that are so rare they would never be advertised unless Pharma were trying to create “demand” for them. Humira-maker AbbVie, in addition to raising “awareness” about EPI, warns people their back pain could really be ankylosing spondylitis.

4. Fear That Your Child Is Not Normal

ADHD is not the only way Pharma has medicalized and monetized childhood. Temper tantrums are now called “Disruptive Mood Disregulation Disorder.” Thanks to “pediatric psychopharmacology” children are increasingly diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorders, mixed manias, social phobias, bipolar disorders, conduct disorders, depression and “spectrum” disorders. Children are compliant patients who have no choice but to do what they parents, teachers and doctors tell them. Worse, they stay on the drugs for decades with no way of knowing if they need they them now—or ever needed them.

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