Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Scare Mongering: The U.K. (and Australian) media are full of stories about “disease-mongering” by pharmaceutical company, the notion being that drug makers are essentially inventing new diseases in order to market the cure.

The Public Library of Science Medicine Journal editors David Henry and Ray Moynihan have produced research that “provides examples of specific disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, which are exaggerated in order to attract public attention. It is also describes aspects of ordinary life, such as menopause, being medicalized and risk factors, such as high cholesterol and osteoporosis, being framed as diseases.”

The pharmaceutical industry has some real reputation problems and there are issues on which the industry’s ethics can be justifiably criticized, but this seems to me to be a case of “crisis-mongering” by the media.

Let’s take the claim that menopause, an “aspect of ordinary life” is being “medicalized.” I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether menopause is a medical condition, because I don’t see how that’s relevant. What seems to me to be beyond question is that many women find menopause and its side-effects less than pleasant and that modern medicine has come up with treatments that alleviate that unpleasantness. Women take these treatments and feel better. If that means that menopause has been medicalized, I say medicalize away.

In other cases, the Journal’s report seems to rely on a contempt for ordinary people who are—in the view of Henry and Moynihan—so gullible and suggestible that they will take medications for problems that don’t even exist. (This is a view that sounds eerily similar to the Scientologist view on psychiatric treatments, articulated so entertainingly by Tom Cruise.) Hypochondria is a real phenomenon—and a cynic might ask how come the endless inventive pharmaceutical industry has not come up with a cure—but I’m not sure it is so widespread that it can subsidize the development of new drugs and the cost of marketing them to the general public.

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