Monday, May 07, 2007

Real Stories, Real Recoveries, Stealth Marketing?

Here in Rhode Island, the big charity gala event of the last week, written up twice last week in the Providence Journal, was a presentation entitled "Real Stories, Real Recoveries," featuring legendary football player Terry Bradshaw talking about depression. Ticket prices started at $150.

According to the article in the social pages,
Bradshaw, who quarterbacked for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, delivered a serious message about dealing with mental health issues. 'I dealt with mental illness knowingly for the last nine years,' he said. 'I had therapy sessions, and went on medication because I didn’t like crying for no reason; I don’t like being mean for no reason and then being OK.'

His 50-minute speech, sometimes more comedy routine than keynote material, helped raise $123,000 for Butler Hospital in Providence, which was founded in the 1840s as a hospital for the mentally ill. The 58-year-old said he had hoped that stepping forward and discussing being diagnosed with clinical depression would remove some of the stigma attached to mental illness.
In another article in the sports section,

Bradshaw, 58, says that traveling around the country for three years discussing his personal struggles and drawing attention to the issues surrounding mental illness is "the best thing I've ever done because you really feel as though you're helping somebody or giving awareness or giving hope."

Bradshaw has gotten a handle on his mental illness through medication and extensive therapy.

It's a little painful criticizing a man with such iconic status, and who seems so clearly sincere about wanting to help out people with psychiatric problems, but....

What the publicity about this event, and probably many other similar events around the country in the last few years, did not make clear is Mr Bradshaw's relationship to GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of paroexetine, Paxil in the US, Seroxat in the UK. We have posted before about issues related to how GSK markets this drug (see posts here and here).

GSK's web-site has on it a news release about the beginnings of Bradshaw's campaign.

March 9, 2004 - Today, football icon Terry Bradshaw arrives in San Francisco to encourage the people of California to take action if their lives are being impacted by depression.

The news release also lectures us that

Depression is a common, yet potentially debilitating condition that can lead to persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness and a loss of interest in enjoyable activities. In some cases, depression can co-exist with panic disorder.... Although depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in the U.S., the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that most people with a depressive illness do not seek treatment, due in large part to the social stigma associated with mental illness. An estimated 25 percent of American adults will endure an anxiety disorder in their lifetime....

But of course there is hope, and it's name is Paxil.

Prescription Paxil CR TM (paroxetine HCl) Controlled-Release Tablets is the first and only controlled-release SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) indicated for social anxiety disorder, depression, panic disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

An article in Neuropsychiatry in 2005, on celebrities and depression noted,

Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw ... [has] publicly discussed mental health issues as part of marketing campaigns by GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Paxil® and Wellbutrin®.
An article in from February, 2007, also noted that

You know Terry Bradshaw best as a football commentator, but did you also know that his drug of choice is GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil, for whom he has run a program titled 'Overcoming Depression with Terry Bradshaw'?

So file this one under "stealth marketing." Once again, it appears that a big pharmaceutical company is trying to convince us that the disease its drug treats is very common and very treatable in a way that will generate maximum publicity, but which will not link the message to the pharmaceutical company sponsoring it. Failure to reveal the relationship between the message and pharmaceutical marketing presumably would result in a much less skeptical audience.

Our local twist was that the marketing pitch was further linked to a fund-raising campaign for a psychiatric hospital. So people who thought they were going to a well-intentioned presentation on mental illness, and were paying a pretty penny to support their local psychiatric hospital while listening to it , were really going to a talk given as part of a pharmaceutical marketing campaign.

If pharmaceutical companies really expect physicians and the public to trust them better, they ought to start making it clear when the message delivered by a convincing and apparently sincere spokesperson is really coming from them.

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