A profitable way to “happiness”

Submitted by AWL on 7 March, 2008 - 8:25 Author: Mike Fenwick

The recent survey of all the existing evidence for the effectiveness of the anti-depressants of the type made famous by Prozac has demonstrated how easily drug companies can get away with cherry picking studies that highlight the effectiveness of their drugs whilst hiding any negative results.

The survey revealed that none of these drugs had an effect better than a placebo in any but the most depressed patients.

Prozac was the first of the group of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) where a massive marketing campaign was launched to put depression in the forefront of the minds of patients and doctors alike.

In the US prescribed medicines can be marketed directly to the public, so you can go for an appointment with a preconceived idea that a “wonder drug” is now available to ease your pain. For example Venlafaxine, another one of these drugs, was advertised to the public under the slogan “here comes the sun”. Brand names are chosen to reflect the uplifting effects of the drug — e.g. Lustral — and presented with a smiley logo.

Such advertising probably raises the expectations people have of the drug and contribute towards the placebo effect. In the same way a man in a white coat might make you think a particular soap powder will wash whiter.

In Britain these adverts can be seen only in the trade press such as the British Journal of Psychiatry, usually in colour multi-page spreads that will earn the publishers a reasonable income. That it also affects the line they take on printing reports on the effectiveness of these medicines is underlined by the fact that the new research has been published on a free online journal.

Such was the impact of the marketing campaign that Prozac became a cultural phenomena leading to books and films (Prozac Nation). You can now even get a version for your dog for relief of “separation anxiety”.

It is only after a long battle using freedom of information legislation that the full details of the research used to promote these claims have been revealed. That the pharmaceutical companies make huge profits by unscrupulous means is no new revelation. Profit is the central motive and the saving of lives a lucrative market rather than an ethical or moral duty.

A backlash against the SSRIs has been long in coming and unfortunately, because of the weakness of regulatory powers, may eventually end up benefiting exactly the same big pharmaceutical companies in the long term. Because you can bet your mental health that the next generation of anti-depressants are on their way, and they too will be best ever available, at a price of course to match.

The hope must be that the current interest in how the drug companies have manipulated people will mean more caution in buying their lies next time round.

You can read the research for yourself. If statistics aren’t your thing it includes a useful summary: http://tinyurl.com/2y6o8u

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