Thirty years ago, Henry Gadsden, the head of Merck, one of the world's largest drug companies, told Fortune magazine that he wanted Merck to be more like chewing gum maker Wrigley's. It had long been his dream to make drugs for healthy people so that Merck could "sell to everyone." Gadsden's dream now drives the marketing machinery of the most profitable industry on earth. Drug companies are systematically working to widen the very boundaries that define illness, and the markets for medication grow ever larger. Mild problems are redefined as serious illness and common complaints are labeled as medical conditions requiring drug treatments. Runny noses are now allergic rhinitis, PMS has become a psychiatric disorder, and hyperactive children have ADD. When it comes to conditions like high cholesterol or low bone density, being "at risk" is sold as a disease. Selling Sickness reveals how widening the boundaries of illness and lowering the threshold for treatments is creating millions of new patients and billions in new profits, in turn threatening to bankrupt health-care systems all over the world. As more and more of ordinary life becomes medicalized, the industry moves ever closer to Gadsden's dream: "selling to everyone."
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Ray Moynihan is one of the world's leading health writers. His work has appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Australian Financial Review, the British Medical Journal, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine. Alan Cassels is a Canadian researcher and writer who works on drug policy issues.From Publishers Weekly:
This accessible study about the collusion between medical science and the drug industry emphasizes how drug companies market their products by either redefining problems as diseases (like female sexual dysfunction) or redefining a condition to encompass a greater percentage of the population. Moynihan, a health journalist for the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, and Cassels, a Canadian science writer, note, for instance, that eight of the nine specialists who wrote the 2004 federal guideline on high cholesterol, which substantially increased the number of people in that category, have multiple financial ties to drug manufacturers. Physicians now routinely prescribe cholesterol-lowering pills (statins) that may have perilous side effects, when many people could lower their risk of heart attack with less costly and dangerous steps, such as exercise and improved diet. Through aggressive merchandising, funding of medical conferences and expensive perks, drug companies win doctors over to diagnosing these "diseases" and prescribing drugs for them. Unfortunately for these authors, much of this territory has been covered by several books in the past year, most notably Marcia Angell's The Truth About the Drug Companies
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