Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lost in a Land of Pharmaceutical Giants

Over the last week I've been in Washington, DC, for the APA meeting. The American Psychiatric Association had its 161st annual meeting, and it was quite a big deal. There were more than 18,000 MD's and mental health professionals attending this huge trade show, with floor space equivalent to three or four football fields. I haven't walked so much in a long time . . . simply walking from one end to the other was exhausting.

You have no idea what a major business the pharmaceutical industry has in products for depression until you see this meeting and the numbers of people prescribing these drugs sinks in. It is a massive industry. Trade show exhibits that must have cost upwards of $200,000 just to rent space dominated the show floor, with a sprinkling of tiny 8x10' booths looking like ants under an elephants foot.

The attendees visited the pharmaceutical companies for information on new drugs for issues like depression, insomnia and eating disorders, but many of them visit the booths for free goodies. Personally, I came home with a bag of "swag" that included laser pens with USB drives, staplers, coffee cups and every other possible freebee you can think of. The industry is generous if nothing else.

What I found most interesting is that some of the smaller booths were thriving even without the free giveaways. There was a lot of attention on Rhodiola rosea being used as a natural antidepressant during the technical presentations, so the ProActive BioProducts booth was packed with practitioners interested in Rhodiola. The Omega 3 supplier OmegaBrite seemed to be packing them in as well. A fair number of studies now show that Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for healthy mental functioning, so they are useful in treating mild depression. Another concept that looked interesting to me were the two companies present who sold light boxes used to help prevent the SAD light deprivation issue that many people have, often in the winter months.

It's good to see the smaller companies succeeding in what is increasingly a business of gigantic corporations pushing pharma chemicals to solve mental health issues.


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