Diseasemongering: Pharmaceuticals Path To Riches

As a hyperactive and gibbering youth, it was once suggested by a teacher that I might benefit from being treated for ADD. Upon hearing this advice, my father — sage and saturnine — said this: “We had kids with ADD back in the 50’s. The way the teacher treated them was by walking to the back of the class, opening the sufferer’s desk, inserting the kid’s cranium into it and them slamming it over and over and over again until the child was subdued. You do that a few times to a ten year old’s noggin, he quickly learns to pay attention, psychological imperatives be damned.”

In short, my father meant ADD is a scam — a nice handy catch-all phrase to justify medicating kids who don’t conform or pay attention. It’s also a handy excuse for not living up to expectations.

On that note, the Public Library of Science has identified ADD as a disorder that the pharmaceutical industry is “diseasemongering” — an industry term for promoting non-existent illnesses, exaggerating minor illnesses or treating risk factors as diseases to sell medication. They’ve also identified osteoporosis, female sexual dysfunction, restless legs syndrome and anti-impotence medications as examples of diseasemongering.

PLoS’s well designed website is full of articles justifying their claims. They warn that diseasemongering actually decreases public health awareness, essentially being an industry sponsored case of hypochondria, detracting resources and attention from serious disorders.

Drugs companies ‘inventing diseases to boost their profits’ [Times Online]
PLoS Diseasemongering Website


Edit Your Comment

  1. KevinQ says:

    This isn’t new. Listerine invented the disease “halitosis” in the early 1900s in order to find a way to sell more of their surgical antiseptic. “It works on scalpels. Maybe it’ll work on teeth, too.”

    Nevertheless, it’s always good to point this out and remind consumers that when people are trying to sell you something, they might not have your best interests at heart.


  2. MrEleganza says:

    I’ll take the diseasemongering, at least in terms of ADD, then the fifties way any day.

  3. Josh says:

    I am not a doctor, but I was diagnosed with ADD back in 1994, while in High School. I had the full workup – complete school history, several hours of neuropsych testing, and walked out with a 20-page writeup. The upshot? Was I able to function in modern society without medication? Yes. Did the diagnosis point useful non-medication strategies that helped me? Yes. Did stimulant medication help me function within classroom and office settings? Yes.

    There’s no question in my mind that many diseases, especially neurological and psychiatric diseases, have cultural components. The behavior that has you diagnosed as schizophrenic in the US might make you a holy man in other countries. It’s hard to function with paranoid personality disorder as a middle manager, but maybe it would help a spy. And as someone with ADD, I’d probably make a great hunter or soldier, but a lousy farmer or cubicle drone. Or student.

    Not everyone with ADD has the option of specialized schools (or teachers willing to beat them into submission). If stimulant medication is an effective alternative to being labeled as learning disabled then what’s then it seems like a net good to me.

    It’s also worth noting that stimulant medication effects me in qualitatively different ways than, say, my non-ADD wife. It helps me to pay attention while sitting quietly on a conference call while while to her it might feel like getting high on amphetamines.

  4. Amy Alkon says:

    I’ve written with Ritalin and without Ritalin, and I write better on it. Like Josh, Ritalin isn’t an upper for me or others who actually have the brain makeup and/or chemistry of ADD or ADHD. It’s very popular to call all diseases scams. I don’t consider ADHD a “disease,” simply a different kind of brain function. I’m better at some things because of it — the humorous connections I make for my column — and worse at others (I have the memory of a sand flea). Again, Ritalin helps me function better. We have this disease-based form of psychiatry and psychology due to the VA Bill in 1947 that said shrinks would be paid for treating specific diseases, and then the profession turned everything into a disease.

  5. AcidReign says:

    …..And the Advice Goddess, as usual, sums it up very well! People are different: and some can effortlessly memorize a page of a telephone book in a couple of minutes, and some can’t do it if their life depended on it! The “science” of psychology is less than 200 years old, and there are still a lot of unknowns. I was labeled as “hyperactive” back in the 1960s. Fact was that I was just plain lazy, and coupled with a high level of stubbornness, I just wasn’t going to do any chores without someone forcing me to!

    …..ADD is sort of the equivalent blanket label of this era, my son (along with every other male in his class) has been said to have this “disease.” And I’ve chosen not to have him chemically treated, mainly because he performs well if someone just takes the time to give him some daily motivation!

    …..I think what chemicals we use (or don’t) is an individual choice, and the government (or judgemental folk) have no business regulating it.

  6. “It’s very popular to call all diseases scams.”

    Yeah, I say that all the time about AIDS and cancer, Amy.

  7. Morgan says:

    While I don’t doubt that there are some people that are actually ADD and will benefit from the medication, I think that it’s overdiagnosed. AcidReign’s is about the fifth time I’ve heard someone talk about EVERY boy in a class being diagnosed with ADD; it seems a lot more likely to me that they’re just normal boys that the teachers don’t want to deal with. I say this with all the perspective of someone with two teachers for parents, one of which seems to think that every problem child she has needs to be medicated. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, but I think it’s a disservice to students to medicate them at the first sign of trouble.

  8. Fairytale of Los Angeles says:

    Heh. I actually have restless legs; given its druthers, my system will gleefully command my poor appendages to kick holes in the nearest wall (much to my parents’ confusion and amusement when I was a kid). Given that it’s a Disease of the Week these days, one might wonder which one of the meds I’m on.

    I’m not. I figured out, once I knew what the hell the issue was about six years ago, that I needed to stop taking some of my allergy meds too close to bedtime. The RLS medications are usually used for Parkinson’s disease and can cause, in some cases, the twitchy-freaky-OMG-my-legs feeling to *move into your arms,* or to start happening during daylight hours as well.

    I wasn’t down for that, so I didn’t do it. Management of a condition isn’t always reliant on meds above common sense– and *everyone* needs to be an informed health-care consumer these days, down to journal articles and basic statistics. Anything else is putting yourself in the hands of a dodgy industry, uninformed and unable to advocate for yourself.

  9. L_Emmerdeur says:

    Given the choice of a good belting or some drug to turn me into a zombie, I’ll take the belting. It builds character, while the drugs turn you into a whineing hippy who grows up to write a crappy book about how his parents didn’t love him and how horrifying it was to grow up middle class in an American suburb.

    My dad smacked me around, and even as a kid, I knew when I deserved it and when I didn’t. Most of those kids don’t have ADD, they’re just eating too many fucking Oreos and messing up their insulin levels. Stop trying to replace parenting with drugs, start taking responsibility for your spoiled kids’ behavior.