At a glance: Pharma firms slammed for 'disease mongering'

Sounds familiar… Yes, this old chestnut – drugs firms being accused of hyping up illnesses to increase their sales – has reared its head in spectacular fashion.

Why now?
A conference was held in Australia last week to discuss the issue of so-called 'disease mongering'. The three-day event was even staged under the banner 'Inaugural Conference on Disease-Mongering'.

The organisers aren't fans of disease awareness campaigns, then...
Not most pharma-funded ones at any rate. They claim many of these are designed to sell drugs rather than inform or educate on the prevention of illness.

What else are they upset by?
Restless-leg syndrome is one of the conditions under fire for being hyped up or unnecessarily medicalised. Other conditions at the heart of the debate include irritable-bowel syndrome, osteoporosis and some forms of depression.

Restless legs? I'm thinking GlaxoSmithKline...
Indeed – GSK is behind a treatment called Requip (ropinirole), which it hopes to market as Adartrel in the UK. Clew Communications has
held the UK account for two years and its co-founder Mary Hicks
admits that having to defend a condition as being worthy
of treatment makes its promotion more difficult.

Any other conditions under fire?
Good old erectile dysfunction. One paper at the conference claimed Pfizer has moved Viagra from being a useful treatment for impotence, caused by diabetes or spinal-cord damage, into 'lifestyle' drug territory. Pfizer refutes the claim while Chandler Chicco Agency, which promotes Viagra, says it will carry on with educational programmes for healthcare professionals.

Who was at the conference?
One of the papers was given by Ray Moynihan, author of the book Selling Sickness: How Drug Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients.

Is it 'the usual suspects' taking another pop at big pharma?
Possibly, but this made headlines worldwide. The Times, The Guardian and Daily Mail all ran pieces along the lines of 'Drugs companies invent diseases to boost profits'. These are criticisms of the industry's marketing that just won't go away.

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