Monday, August 25, 2008

The Move to Make Aging a Disease

We see them all the time, the 30 or 60 second spots on TV that show an older person enjoying life with their grandchildren, or looking passionately at their spouse as they enter the bedroom with a wink to the camera. No matter what ails the aging person, pharmaceutical companies have something to offer to improve those "symptoms."

Does it seem like these huge corporations are trying to make billions of dollars in profits out of what are simply normal aspects of aging? Personally, I think so.

Recently I read the book "How Doctors Think" by Dr. Jerome Groopman. In that excellent book, Groopman makes the case that certain aspects of aging may not need to be "fixed." The example he gives is of testosterone replacement for aging men. There doesn't appear to be much of a case for most of what these testosterone replacement drugs are prescribed for, as lowered testosterone levels are just a part of life. Men can perform well in all aspects of their life even when their testosterone levels dip as much as 50% below normal.

The market for these drugs began a number of years ago when advertisements were being developed by pharma companies that target consumers. A Time magazine ad showed a car running with its fuel gauge nearing empty. "Fatigued? Low sex drive? Depressed mood?" it asked the readers. It showed the same car with its fuel gauge set at full at the bottom of the ad. (How's that for skirting FDA requirements for making unsupported claims?).

This is where the expression "male menopause" comes from. The market grew from nothing to hundreds of millions or more in sales. Another example of how the pharmaceutical industry influences us all lies in the original best-seller behind female hormone therapy, Feminine Forever, by Dr. Robert A. Wilson. After reaching the top of the charts, it was discovered that the doctor was paid to write it by a pharmaceutical company.

I think we all need to look a bit more critically at pharmaceutical industry ads and marketing methods in the future.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so right about this. I became disturbed by the large number of pharmaceutical ads on television which bypass the physician and go straight to the public. The consumer then visits the doctor insisting on a certain treatment. Many doctors are reluctant to turn down the patient, knowing that the patient will just go elsewhere until he or she finds someone who will prescribe the drug.

It makes sense for people to be partners with their treating professionals. However, if you are going to see your doctor and insist on a particular medication, then you should probably go online beforehand and read the package insert, which is often not provided by the pharmacy. Take a look at the adverse effects that people had during treatment and ask yourself if you are willing to
accept these as a tradeoff for taking the medication. Then you at least can discuss this treatment option with your doctor and make a truly informed decision.