Tuesday, April 05, 2005

More Downsides of a "Pill for Every Ill"

Two recent stories from the NY Times also accent the possible unintended effects of pharmaceutical companies' efforts to market "a pill for every ill."
One story was about the rush to develop drugs to combat obesity. Of course, obesity has health risks. But critics of the drug industry fear that the real appeal of such drugs would be to the only slightly overweight. This could lead to a huge market for such drugs. According to the Times, 60% of the US population is overweight. Thus "everybody is just foaming at the mouth to make money from obesity drugs." The danger, of course, is that new drugs often have rare serious side effects that are not detected in controlled trials on even thousands of patients. New obesity drugs might be taken by millions of patients, thus any such rare adverse effects could still affect substantial absolute numbers.
The other NY Times article was about increasing apathy towards safe-sex measures to prevent the spread of HIV. Some think that this is partly due to "drug company [direct to consumer] advertisements that gloss over the disease's effects by portraying patients as the pictures of perfect health." For example, Michael Weinstein, President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, cited an ad for Reyataz in Out magazine featuring two robust men on a beach. The ad includes an audio microchip. Opening the page "sets off the trill of a ringing phone and a man's voice essentially saying he is having too much fun to worry about his chronic illness." The San Francisco health department also fears that drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED, as the drug-makers like to call it) are another culprit, since they can counter the impotence caused by "crystal meth." ED drugs are widely marketed by direct to consumer advertisements, as anyone who has turned on network television in the last year must realize. Weinstein has called on Bristol-Myers-Squibb to stop running its audio enhanced ad, while the department of health is seeking to limit availability of "ED" drugs.
All the more reason to support the UK House of Commons Reports' call for "an industry led by the values of scientists, not those of its marketing force." (Quoted in the Guardrian.)

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