How Pharma keeps health care costs astronomical

In 2009, CBS news reported that drugmakers had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to raise awareness of fibromyalgia which it called, “a murky illness, helping boost sales of pills recently approved as treatments and drowning out unresolved questions—including whether it’s a real disease at all.” Eli Lilly and Pfizer had donated more than $6 million to “nonprofit groups for medical conferences and educational campaigns,” reported CBS. While fibromyalgia, like most diseases given such “awareness” certainly exists, the timing and estimation of how many people “suffer” was totally orchestrated by Pharma and its many patient front groups.

Like most disease awareness marketing, the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown observed CBS and “There are no tests to confirm a diagnosis. Many patients also fit the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome and other pain ailments.”

Many health reporters have noted how Pharma “sell diseases” to grow the market of people taking their drugs. One of the clearest examples is depression which did not afflict 25 percent of the population until the lucrative SSRI antidepressants debuted.

Some “sold” diseases are so rare, they almost appear as satire or a joke. How many people, for example, suffer from the sleep disorders narcolepsy, Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Non-24 Hour Sleep Wake Disorder, the latter almost always only affecting blind people? That has not stopped Pharma from scaring people with symptoms and quizzes to ask their doctors about and setting up unbranded websites to “educate” about the diseases.

For example the unbranded website Wake Up Narcolepsy, says “It can take as long as 10 to 15 years after the first symptoms appear before Narcolepsy is recognized and diagnosed. Many doctors are unfamiliar with Narcolepsy, even though it affects 1 in 2,000 people. Narcolepsy symptoms are like symptoms of other illnesses, such as infections, depression and other sleep disorders.” Narcolepsy can “sometimes be mistaken for a learning problem, seizure and even laziness, especially in school-aged children and teens. When Narcolepsy symptoms are mild, the disorder is even harder to diagnose.” The disease awareness is courtesy of Jazz Pharmaceuticals, not mentioned on the unbranded website, which makes the narcolepsy drug Xyrem that costs up to $89,000 for one year. And people want to know why health care costs are booming.

Bloomberg later reported that the charity Caring Voice set up a fund for narcolepsy in 2011 that included Jazz Pharmaceuticals donations. When patients who were taking drugs other than Xyrem called for help they were turned away. The Department of Justice has subpoenaed Jazz documents related to such charities providing financial assistance for Medicare patients.

Disease awareness campaigns, other than for depression, have been chillingly successful. A 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than 10,000 two- and three-year-olds in the U.S. are now on the stimulants Ritalin, Adderall and their cousins for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While ADHD is not a completely made-up disease, diagnosing children including preschoolers with behavioral and psychiatric conditions was unheard of until Pharma had expensive drugs to treat them. The outrageous term “pediatric psychopharmacology”—dosing kids—is now accepted in mainstream medicine.

Ten years ago, the nation was sickened by the drug-related death of Rebecca Riley, treated for bipolar disorder, even though she was just four years old.

Adult ADHD is also increasingly given awareness. In 2009, Shire launched a Nationwide Adult ADHD Mobile Awareness Tour, which included a “mobile screening initiative” called the RoADHD Trip (get it?) The caravan, anchored by “the RoADHD Trip Tractor Trailer” which turned into a tented area with eight “self-screening stations,” traveled the country, visiting major cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis and Dallas. In each city, Shire said it was partnering with the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, “a leading adult ADHD patient advocacy organization, in an effort to assist up to 20,000 adults to self-screen for this disorder.”

When you hear about a hitherto unknown disease you might just have here are two things to remember. You likely do not have the condition and this is why our health care costs are so high.

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.

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