Seven Diseases Big Pharma Hopes You Get in 2012
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It used to be joked that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. These days, the opportunist is Big Pharma, which raises your insurance premiums and taxes while providing you "low-priced" drugs that you paid for.
How did Pharma get a good third of the United States taking antidepressants, statins, and Purple Pills, albeit at low prices? By selling the diseases of depression, high cholesterol, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Supply-driven marketing, also known as "Have Drug — Need Disease and Patients," not only turns the nation into pill-popping hypochondriacs, it distracts from Pharma's drought of real drugs for real medical problems.
Of course, not all diseases are Wall Street pleasers. To be a true blockbuster disease, a condition must (1) really exist but have huge diagnostic "wiggle room" and no clear-cut test, (2) be potentially serious with "silent symptoms" said to "only get worse" if untreated, (3) be "underrecognized," "underreported" with "barriers" to treatment, (4) explain hitherto vague health problems a patient has had, (5) have a catchy name — ED, ADHD, RLS, Low T or IBS — and instant medical identity, and (6) need an expensive new drug that has no generic equivalent.
Here are some potential blockbuster diseases Pharma hopes you get in 2012.
Everyday problems labeled as "depression" sailed Pharma through the last two decades. You weren't sad, mad, scared, confused, remorseful, grieving, or even exploited. You were depressed, and there was a pill for that. But depression peaked just like the Atkins Diet and the Macarena. Luckily, there is adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which has doubled in women 45 to 65 and tripled in men and women 20 to 44, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Like depression, adult ADHD is a catch-all category. "Is It ADHD or Menopause?" asks an article in Additude, a magazine devoted exclusively to ADHD. "ADD and Alzheimer's: Are These Diseases Related?" asks another article in the same magazine.
"I'm Depressed. Could it be ADHD?" says an ad in Psychiatric News, showing a pretty but pouting young woman. In the same publication, another ad titled "Broken Promises" says, "Adults with ADHD were nearly 2x more likely to have been divorced," while exhorting doctors to "screen for ADHD."
Adults with ADHD are often "less responsible, reliable, resourceful, goal-oriented, and self-confident, and they find it difficult to define, set, and pursue meaningful internal goals," says an article cowritten by Harvard child psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman, who is credited with putting "pediatric bipolar disorder" on the map. They "show tendencies to being self-absorbed, intolerant, critical, unhelpful, and opportunistic," and "tend to be inconsiderate of other people's rights or feelings," says the article, describing most people's brothers-in-law.
Adults with ADHD will have trouble keeping a job and get worse without treatment, says WebMD, tapping into the second requirement of a blockbuster disease — symptoms worsen without pills. "Adults with ADHD may have difficulty following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organizing tasks, or completing work within time limits," according to the website, whose original partner was Eli Lilly.
How did Pharma get five million kids and now, maybe, their parents on ADHD meds? Ads on 26- by 20-foot screens in Times Square that ask "Can't focus? Can't sit still? Could you or your child have ADHD?" four times an hour couldn't hurt. (Bet no one had trouble focusing on that!)
Still, convincing adults they aren't sleep deficient or bored but have ADHD is only half the battle. Pharma also has to convince kids who grew up diagnosed as ADHD not to quit their meds, says Mike Cola of Shire (which makes the ADHD drugs Intuniv, Adderall XR, Vyvanse, and the Daytrana patch). "We know that we lose a significant number of patients in the late teen years, early 20s, as they kind of fall out of the system based on the fact that they no longer go to a pediatrician."