Tag: Big Pharma

Are You Healthy?

To understand whether or not your healthy, you have to first understand what it means to be healthy. It seems straightforward, but in the modern age, this is a complex question.

We might at first be inclined to think that being healthy means that you don’t have any illness or injury. But is this always true? What if you have an illness that is managed by medication? What if a person has a disability but the disability doesn’t disrupt their daily life? What if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-hypertension but have no symptoms?

Joseph Dumit, Director of Science and Technology Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, discusses various changes to our view of health and illness since the rise of the randomized control trial in his book Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (Duke University Press, 2012). He argues “that being at risk for illness is often treated as if one had a disease requiring lifelong treatments, drugs for life” (6).

Dumit discusses a few prediseases in depth, looking at pre-hypertensive, pre-diabetes, and borderline high cholesterol. “Literally, a disease-sounding syndrome is produced by correlating risk factors and naming it in such a way that it becomes common sense to think about treating ‘it’ as a disease in and of itself” (165). Hence, health becomes a matter of risk where we are all bodies constantly at risk of disease. If you have pre-diabetes, are you healthy? How do we understand our health in a risk economy of health?

This intersects interestingly with Donald A. Barr’s claim, in his book Health Disparities in the United States: Social Class, Race, Ethnicity, & Health, that despite investing so much of our economy in health, US health indexes rank rather low; “[p]erhaps, our basic assumption–that more health care will lead, necessarily, to better health–is flawed.”

More Bad Health Communication – Oh, Pharma…

It’s just a bad week for the pharmaceutical industry. Early this week, news broke that GlaxoSmithKline would have to pay $3 billion for fraud, and now it’s being reported that Pfizer is dealing with false advertising claims. The Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) threatened to sue Pfizer for making false claims on its multivitamin Centrum. These claims purport that the vitamins offer boosts to energy and immunity and promote health of the heart, colon, breast, eye and bone. According to the CSPI, Pfizer made claims that gave the impression that the vitamins would help in disease prevention, which are claims that supplement manufacturers can’t legally make. Instead of going to court over the issue, Pfizer and the CSPI decided to settle on the issue – Pfizer will change some things but leave others the same. Unfortunately, a settlement means that the only real loser is the consumer.

Like GlaxoSmithKline, this is an example of bad health communication – it is false, and it misleads the consumer. I’m a proponent of health literacy, and indeed my initial reaction to this story was to promote education to teach people how to read labels and analyze claims, but I wonder at what point do we draw the line for reasonable expectations of the consumer? To decide if the claim on a multivitamin label is true, one would need a working knowledge of the functions and effects of all the vitamins in a supplement to determine if the supplement’s claim is true. Needless to say, most people don’t possess this working knowledge. The only feasible alternative, when health information is this complex, is to expect full disclosure from the company that made the supplement and complete honesty in advertising.

And, as long as we’re being honest here, this type of advertising makes my skin crawl. You’re basically inviting people to play Russian roulette with their health by convincing them to use an unregulated supplement for a health problem rather than getting legit care.

Image via foxumon on stock xchng

prescription drugs

Consumers get clear info for food, so how about for prescription drugs?

A recent editorial in the New York Times argues that proposals for so-called “fact boxes” on prescription drugs should be made law. As the editorial staff writes,

Bombarded with pharmaceutical ads listing what seems like every conceivable side effect, American consumers might think they are already getting too much information. But they — and their doctors — are not getting what arguably matters most: independent, plain-English facts about the medication.

Fortunately, there is a simple model for getting such information across. The government should follow through on proposals to require fact boxes, similar to those that appear on food packaging, in every ad drug makers produce and along with every package of medication they sell.

Loads of research shows that too much information all at once can result in confusion, frustration and lack of understanding. Regulations such as the proposed fact box would lend further momentum for the patient rights movement that puts more power in the patient’s hands.

Would fact boxes similar to the nutrition data found on cereal boxes work for people who take prescription drugs? How would doctors react to the simplification of complex information? Would fact boxes lead to people demanding certain drugs more or less than they already do?