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Why drug cos make you ill

Realising more money can be made from healthy people who believe they are ill, pharma cos are exaggerating ailments, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2006 02:10 IST

Realising that more money can be made from healthy people who believe they are ill than from people who actually need medication, pharmaceutical companies are exaggerating ailments to sell medicines. The result: the creation of a slew of "disorders" that needed no cure two decades ago.

Today, you’re not an introvert, you have "social phobia"; you’re not temperamental, but someone with "mood instability"; you’re not greedy but a "compulsive overeater"; you are not fickle but a "sex addict"; and irrespective of who you are and what you do, you need Viagra.

Dr Anupam Sibal, group director (health services), Apollo Hospitals, says, "Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly promoting new disorders and selling the cure to gullible people who want a pill for every disorder, real or imagined."

In its April issue, highly respected medical journal Public Library of Science Medicine published 11 articles, calling for action against "disease mongering, which turns healthy people into patients, wastes precious resources, and causes iatrogenic (illnesses caused by medical treatment) harm".

Disease mongering is about blurring the boundaries of illness to expand markets for drugs. Apart from formulating new disorders, marketing strategies also exaggerate aspects which are a part of life — such as balding, menopause, post-partum depression, andropause — to bring them in the pharmaceutical net.

"A nexus between drug companies and doctors results in a lot of unnecessary drugs and treatments being promoted," says Dr Ranjit Roy Choudhry, chairman of the Centre’s sub-committee on macro economics and health, set up to assess India’s health sector.

"The government and doctors have a responsibility to educate the public and not play on people’s fears," he says. In India’s Rs 24,000-crore pharmaceutical market, 15 of the 25 top-selling prescription drugs are irrational combinations.

First Published: Apr 14, 2006 02:10 IST