What if you'd thought for years that you were in danger of dying from heart disease because of your high blood pressure? And what if you were taking powerful blood pressure drugs – which come loaded with dangerous side effects. And then what if several years later you found out you were never at risk for heart disease to start with, and you'd been taking those dangerous drugs for nothing?
We don't know for certain how many Americans were in this very position when a recent article in the New York Times suggested that as many as 100 million people who've been told they're at risk for heart disease may not be at risk at all. But we do know that a new study shows that trying to lower blood pressure too much can actually increase your risk of both heart problems and death!
Conflicts of Interest May Jeopardize Your Health More than You Think…
The current definition normal blood pressure was created in 2003 by the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Rife with drug industry conflicts of interest, both declared and indirect – this panel decided that relatively low blood pressure readings were a risk for heart disease. They acknowledged the new affliction – dubbed prehypertension – didn't necessarily equate to a need for medication. But as the New York Times reported, they still urged doctors:
"…to take high blood pressure more seriously, and treat it more aggressively, often with more than one drug."
And that's how an additional 45 million people, and millions more over the years, were suddenly labeled abnormal, and in need of "treatment" for a condition that didn't exist in medical literature until that panel met. What's disturbing is that other so-called non-biased professionals not on the committee, but with obvious conflicts of interest, joined the panel's call for aggressive treatment by suggesting that everyone over age 55 automatically be treated for heart disease!
It's quite similar to what happened in 2001, when the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute lowered the guidelines for cholesterol levels, categorizing an additional 23 million Americans as in need of "aggressive treatment" with statins; another drug with dangerous side effects. Eight of the nine authors of these new guidelines had financial ties to statin makers.
Again, it's hard to guess how many people since then have been taking blood pressure drugs and statins unnecessarily just because their doctors chose to treat them "aggressively." But what's criminal is that these are just two examples of how drug companies can boost sales by covertly influencing how normally benign conditions are defined and treated.
Where the Heart Is – He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune
In their book, "Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients," Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels talk about the "perverted truth" of how Big Pharma helps create diseases by influencing how treatment standards are set. The problem is so pervasive that it's hard to conceive just how many unnecessary drugs the world may be taking, the authors say.
The list of sickness-for-sale conditions and drugs is long. But here are three of the most prevalent:
- Menopause – Redefined as estrogen deficiency syndrome, menopause became the cause for massive PR blitzes that resulted in millions of women going on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – until they learned HRT drugs were causing a 26 percent increase in breast cancer (with the risk doubling every five years), a 41 percent increase in strokes, a 29 percent increase in heart disease, and double the risk of blood clots. The truth about HRT was only revealed after women began to die and lawsuits were filed.As it turns out, drugmakers like Wyeth had known about the possible connection to cancer for years.
- Attention Deficit Disorder – In 1960 there were hardly any children diagnosed with, let alone treated for, attention deficit disorder. But once children’s normal behavior (inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity) was categorized as a mental disorder called attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and therefore drug treatable, the use of psychostimulants to “control” these behaviors increased six-fold. In the 1990s, there was a 700 percent increase in drugs prescribed for ADHD. Today, state attorneys general are busy suing drug companies for illegal marketing tactics that put millions of children on these drugs.
This accomplishment was achieved in part by drug companies “partnering” with or sponsoring ADHD support groups, befriending prescribing physicians, and through heavy marketing, Moynihan and Cassels assert. And they’re not far off – numerous psychiatry blogs and studies accuse the industry of unduly causing an ADHD “epidemic.” And now that adult ADHD is a household word the epidemic is getting even larger.
- Depression – With an onslaught of new drugs and plenty of new disorders defining sadness, the DSM (psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and its industry-connected creators have managed to make depression drugs a $50-billion-a-year business. In 2006, 100 percent of the DSM’s Mood Disorders panel had drug industry ties; 56 percent of all the DSM panels had financial ties to industry. Lawsuits in this category are bountiful too.
Prevention Doesn't Play – or Pay – on Wall Street
Another way drug companies "sell" sickness is through direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. In a 60-second TV commercial and a simple line like "Tell someone" (Merck's 2006 introductory ad for its HPV vaccine, Gardasil) a company can kindle consumers' interest in a product even before the FDA allows them to market it. Critics call this tactic disease mongering, but Big Pharma calls it disease awareness. Whichever, the strategy is to create demand and sell the product – and ultimately pay dividends to stockholders.
According to a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, every $1 invested in direct-to-consumer ads generates $4.20 in sales. And that makes stockholders happy. It might sound shallow, but prevention doesn't play or pay on Wall Street: the business of drug companies is to treat you, not make you well. In Merck's case, DTC advertising did well for stockholders – earning $1.5 billion in sales in its first year.
Just Three Steps to Making You Dependent on Drugs
In a 2003 commentary called "The Art of Branding a Condition," marketing professional Vince Parry outlined three steps for creating a need for Big Pharma products. To get a guaranteed bottom line for sales, all you need to do, he said, is adopt one or more of the following strategies:
- Elevate the importance of an existing condition
- Redefine an existing condition to reduce a stigma
- Develop a new condition to build recognition for an unmet market need
Warner-Lambert did this with finesse, Parry said, with Listerine in the 1920s.
The mouthwash had been around for a while, and was used for a variety of conditions including dandruff, but sales were flat until the company played it up as a cure for a foul-sounding condition – halitosis. With a new name, the stigma of bad breath caught on, and Listerine sales skyrocketed from $100,000 to $4 million over a six-year period. That is what you call "effective branding,
Prime examples of effective branding of scary-sounding diseases today are premenstrual problems, heartburn and impotence. With their new names of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and erectile dysfunction, these once-benign afflictions have been transformed into serious illnesses with insurance billing codes and expensive prescription drug treatments – all to the tune of billions of dollars in annual revenues for Big Pharma.
Breaking News: Former APA Head Admits to Facilitating Epidemics
Quite possibly, one of the biggest epidemics ever created in the medical world is mental illness. From the practice of turning shyness into a social phobia to diagnosing babies with schizophrenia to the off-label prescribing of psychotropic drugs to both children and the elderly, the branding of various forms of mental illness has been a Big Pharma cash cow for years. According to Parry:
"Watching the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) balloon in size over the decades to its current phonebook dimensions would have us believe that the world is a more unstable place today than ever."… Not surprisingly, many of these newly coined conditions were brought to light through direct funding by pharmaceutical companies, in research, in publicity or both."
And if that's not damning enough, then how about hearing it straight from a former chief of the American Psychiatric Association, who admits that some of the "mistakes" the APA made in its diagnostic manual have had "terrible consequences," which have mislabeled millions of children and adults, and facilitated epidemics of mental illness that don't exist.
How Insurance Companies Encourage Disease Mongering
The United States spends 50 to 100 percent more per person on health care than any other industrialized nation. Yet, we have the worst overall health outcomes, according to a World Health Organization report on the world's health care systems. In an analysis of why this could be, a special team used statins to compare six different countries' guidelines on preventing deaths from coronary artery disease, and found that our low cholesterol guidelines cause us to treat twice as many patients as the country with the most efficient statin guideline in the world (New Zealand), with very few additional lives saved.
In the US, it costs $200,000 in statin drug consumption by 198 people each year to prevent just one death from coronary artery disease. That's twice the amount spent in any other country to save just that one individual. And that's not counting office visits and other health maintenance expenses – or the side effects, some of which can be death.
You'd think statistics like this would cause insurance companies to try to rein in the costs by refusing to pay them. But once the government has issued treatment guidelines (such as those for blood pressure and cholesterol levels) and "medicalized" a condition by giving it a billing code by which claims can be made through Medicare and Medicaid, insurance almost always has to follow the lead.
So where do they save their money?
By refusing to pay anything that hasn't been "medicalized" with a diagnosis for disease. Oh, they say they pay for preventive health care, but what they're paying for are screenings for diseases you already have, not for preventive services or products like health club memberships or foods and supplements that can keep you from getting sick in the first place.
Dodge Sickness and Disease by Choosing to Take Control of Your Health
Governments mandate health policy because they believe you can't think for yourself when it comes to getting and staying well. Citing endless studies that are supposed to prove that invasive health measures like vaccines and screening tests such as annual mammograms are the best preventive measures there are, the U.S. government has a litany of reasons why they "know better than you" when it comes to avoiding disease.
Yet, our government has failed us in almost every area when it comes to making us better.
It's no secret that Americans are dissatisfied with their health "care." Every year, the Employment Benefit Research Institute surveys American workers on what they think of the government-guided, and insurance-led, care they're getting. And every year, including the one for 2010, the survey shows that a majority of Americans rate the U.S. health care system as poor or fair. And the leading factor in this is cost, compared to the care they're getting.
So what can we do about it?
The answer is easy, but it requires giving up passive acceptance of government's intrusion into our health and taking a proactive approach with a plan for dodging sickness and disease. If you've read even a few of my newsletters, you already know that the power to take control of your health is in your own hands.
One reason people give for not following good health measures in their diet and daily routine is that it costs too much. But studies show that out-of-pocket expenses for treating sickness and disease have escalated to more than $7,200 every year. Just think what you could do with that, if you only used it to make a few easy lifestyle changes, beginning with a good nutrition plan.
Add peak fitness exercise to it, and you're on the road to good health. Follow up with other good health measures such as getting a good night's sleep and learning how to instill positive emotions that ensure good mental health, and you'll be on the right track to getting and staying well, no matter how many new illnesses industry thinks up and sells!