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How to Brand a Disease - and Sell a Cure

October 29, 2010 | 53,516 views

pharmacist with prescription bottlesThe manner in which prescription drugs are marketed today can be readily understood if you read the 1928 book "Propaganda," by Edward Bernays, the father of PR.

Bernays knew that public relations business was less about selling things than about creating the conditions for things to sell themselves.

Pharmaceutical marketers, following in his footsteps, sell drugs by selling diseases -- a system known as "disease branding." Illnesses such as panic disorder, restless legs syndrome, bipolar disorder, and ADHD were once considered rare until a marketing campaign transformed the brand in order to sell more drugs.

According to CNN:

"If all drugs were harmless, disease branding would be relatively harmless, too. But no drug is completely benign ... Detrol can make elderly people delirious and may cause memory problems. Paxil is associated with sexual dysfunction and dependence ... Side effects like these are a part of every drug. But they are never part of the brand."

 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Drug companies are master marketers and they fully embrace the ideology that Edward Bernays' -- the father of PR -- is most known for. Instead of trying to sell their drugs on their own merit, they invest untold amounts of money into creating diseases their drugs are meant to treat.

By doing this, they create instant patients, patients who will likely go to their physicians and request the said drug by name.

It's an ingenious model and one that the PR industry has won awards over … the only problem is that it's detrimental to your health.

The Fine Art of Disease Mongering

Pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than research -- almost twice as much. Part of these costs often go toward hiring expensive PR firms, celebrity spokespeople, and physicians and academics to pedal their wares.

As CNN reported, in order to market its antidepressant Paxil, GlaxoSmithKline hired a PR firm to create a "public awareness campaign" about an "under-diagnosed" disease.

The disease? Social anxiety disorder … previously known as shyness.

You may have seen this campaign firsthand; ads stating "Imagine being allergic to people" were distributed widely, celebrities gave interviews to the press and psychiatrists gave lectures on this new disease in the top 25 media markets.

As a result, mentions of social anxiety in the press rose from about 50 to over 1 billion in just two years … social anxiety disorder became the "third most common mental illness" in the U.S. … and Paxil skyrocketed to the top of the charts as one of the most profitable and most prescribed drugs in the United States.

Clearly there was not a rapid rise in the number of people suffering from extreme shyness during this time … there was just a masterful marketing campaign that successfully whispered into enough people's ears, "If you're shy or nervous around others, you need to take this drug."

And that's just what millions did.

Drug Companies are Seeking to Medicalize Society … and You

Drug companies would like you to believe that for every symptom you experience, there's a pill you need to treat it. This includes symptoms you might not have thought twice about, had you not seen the very same ones advertised on television in relation to an "underdiagnosed" and "undertreated" disease.

As authors of Selling Sickness: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Disease Mongering wrote in the British Medical Journal:

"There's a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they're sick. Some forms of medicalizing ordinary life may now be better described as disease mongering: widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments.

Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers. The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease."

This practice has resulted in the creation of unholy alliances between drug companies, health care providers and supposed consumer groups, all working in concert to convince people they're sick and in need of drug treatment. As the British Medical Journal continued:

"Within many disease categories informal alliances have emerged, comprising drug company staff, doctors, and consumer groups. Ostensibly engaged in raising public awareness about underdiagnosed and undertreated problems, these alliances tend to promote a view of their particular condition as widespread, serious, and treatable.  

Because these "disease awareness" campaigns are commonly linked to companies' marketing strategies, they operate to expand markets for new pharmaceutical products.

Alternative approaches—emphasizing the self limiting or relatively benign natural history of a problem, or the importance of personal coping strategies—are played down or ignored."

What the drug companies don't want you to know is that ALL of their drugs carry risks of serious side effects, some worse than the alleged diseases they're meant to treat. They also don't want you to know that, more often than not, you can overcome problematic symptoms yourself by making positive dietary and lifestyle changes.

And, in fact, this latter form of "treatment" is virtually the only way to actually cure an illness, as drugs typically do absolutely nothing but temporarily mask your symptoms.

You Needn't Live in Fear …

One of the key strategies that drug companies depend on to make medicalization of society work is targeting your news media with stories designed to create fears about a condition or disease, and draw attention to the latest treatment. This has led to problems on several key levels:

  • People with benign, normal symptoms end up taking dangerous drugs. Once you're convinced that natural signs of aging and common conditions are diseases or treatable symptoms, you take drugs for such things as balding, anxiety, mild bone loss and indigestion, which puts your health at risk over issues that were not true illnesses or risks in the first place.

    Further, many of these conditions are entirely treatable with diet and lifestyle modifications.

  • People who are tested regularly end up undergoing unnecessary treatments with drugs and invasive surgery. Very few people after middle age can pass standard medical tests without being told that they have some sort of "risk."

    This risk is then turned into a pseudo-disease leading to such things as dangerous breast and colon surgery and "preventive" medications, instead of outlining natural strategies that would actually help a person's health to thrive.

  • As a result of "disease mongering," the more the medical industry influences a nation, the sicker that nation "considers itself to be." It eats away at your self-confidence and teaches you that you're weak and incapable of staying well, and that all signs and symptoms are potentially dangerous conditions and diseases.

    Truly, this sort of marketing has blurred the lines of what drugs and surgery you really need to save your life, and which may end up killing you faster.

    Rather than focusing more time and attention on your health as you age, or as you see degeneration setting in, you might settle for a "diagnosis" and the latest medications. The only winners in this grand scheme are the ones who profit financially.

It's Time to Take Control of Your Health

Drug companies will try to convince you that you're sick. Your physician, too, may encourage you to seek drug treatments that aren't really necessary and are very likely dangerous.

The only way to break out of this self-destructive system is to take a stand for yourself, and take control of your own health.

One of the primary purposes of Mercola.com is to provide you with the insight to protect and defend yourself from these persuasive and manipulative influences. I encourage you to browse through the site and get educated about how to get and stay well without drugs, surgery, and other often-unnecessary medical interventions.

If you're just beginning, read my nutrition plan first, as its recommendations come from decades of experience in which I have researched extensively, conferred with my professional colleagues, and most importantly, successfully treated tens of thousands of patients.

And always remember: first and foremost, drug companies are nearly always trying to sell you something that there are better natural solutions for. They're not really concerned if you're sick or well, or whether you get healthy or sicker; they just want you to buy their products. But in far more cases than not, there are more effective and safer options than drugs to help you get well.


[+] Sources and References

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