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Seven Diseases Big Pharma Hopes You Get in 2012

Supply-driven marketing not only turns the nation into pill-popping hypochondriacs, it distracts from Pharma's drought of real drugs for real medical problems.

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Still, Lyrica has to fight Cymbalta, the first antidepressant to be approved for fibromyalgia. Eli Lilly prepositioned Cymbalta for the physical "pain" of depression in a campaign called "Depression Hurts" before the fibromyalgia approval. Treatment of a fibromyalgia patients with either Lyrica or Cymbalta hovers around $10,000, say medical journals.

Pharma and Wall Street may be happy with fibromyalgia drugs, but patients aren't. On askapatient.com, the drug-rating website, patients on Cymbalta reported chills, jaw problems, electrical "pings" in their brain, and eye problems. This year, four patients reported the urge to kill themselves, a frequently reported side effect of Cymbalta. Lyrica users on askapatient reported memory loss, confusion, extreme weight gain, hair loss, impaired driving, disorientation, twitching, and worse. Some patients take both drugs.

SLEEP DISORDERS

Middle of the Night Insomnia

Sleep disorders are a goldmine for Pharma because everyone sleeps — or watches TV when they can't. To churn the insomnia market, Pharma rolls out subcategories of insomnia, such as chronic, acute, transient, initial, delayed-onset, terminal, early-morning, menopausal, and the master category of nonrestful sleep. This fall, Pharma rolled out a new version of Ambien for "middle-of-the-night" insomnia called Intermezzo, even though Ambien is paradoxically notorious for middle-of-the-night awakenings: people "waking up" in an Ambien blackout and walking, talking, driving, making phone calls, and eating food.

Many became aware of Ambien's "lights-on-nobody-home" effect when former Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy drove to Capitol Hill to "vote" at 2:45 a.m. in 2006 on Ambien and crashed his Mustang. But it was Ambien's EWI effect — eating while intoxicated — not DWIs that gave the pill its worst rap. Fit and sexy people awoke amid mountains of pizza, Krispy Kreme, and Häagen-Dazs cartons, their contents consumed by their evil twin on Ambien.

Excessive Sleepiness and Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Needless to say, people with insomnia won't be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the following day —  whether they didn't sleep or whether they have sleeping pill residues in their system. In fact, they are actually suffering from the underrecognized and underreported epidemic of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. The main medical causes of EDS or ES are sleep apnea and narcolepsy, but last year Pharma rolled out a lifestyle-caused "Shift Work Sleep Disorder." (No, it doesn't meant you can't sleep because your partner "shifts" in his or her sleep.) Ads for Provigil, a Schedule IV stimulant that treats EDS along with Nuvigil show a judge in his black robe, nodding out on the job, with the headline "Struggling to Fight the Fog?" ("Yo! Your Honor! I'm trying to plead!").

Of course wakefulness agents contribute to insomnia, which contributes to wakefulness problems in a kind of perpetual pharmaceutical jet lag. In fact, the sleeping pill/alertness aid habit is so common, it threatens to create a new meaning for "AA" — Adderall and Ambien!

Insomnia That Is Really Depression

Sleep disorders have also given a new lease on life to antidepressants. Doctors now prescribe more antidepressants for insomnia than they do sleeping pills, according to CNN. They also often combine them, since "insomnia and depression often occur together, but which is the cause and which is the symptom is often unclear."

WebMD agrees with doubling the drugs. "Depressed patients with insomnia who were treated with both an antidepressant and a sleep medication fared better than those treated only with antidepressants," it writes. Ka-ching!

In fact, many of the new blockbuster diseases from adult ADHD and RA to fibromyalgia are treated with new drugs piled on top of existing ones that aren't working, a Pharma contrivance called polypharmacy. It brings to mind the store owner who says, "I know that 50 percent of my advertising is wasted — I just don't know which 50 percent."

 
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