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Medicalizing Symptoms to Market Medications

Posted August 22, 2012

I am taking the liberty of using a phrase coined by John Abramson, MD, award-winning family practitioner, Harvard-based educator, and author of “Overdosed America”. Dr. Abramson memorialized this phrase as well did Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, educator, and author, and Dr. Marcia Angell with nearly identical credentials when they began to question how medicine had evolved into pushing the sponsor’s product with over $20 billion spent annually by pharmaceutical companies to influence doctors’ prescribing habits. As Dr. Abramson mused elevated cholesterol levels had become a disease. New normals were created by medicine’s elite not to result in better patient care but to create new opportunities to prescribe medications to American consumers. Hypertension or high blood pressure was diagnosed when blood pressure readings were at lower levels than those previously used as the normal range. The same was true for blood sugar or glucose readings. Lower bone density or thin bones became the new disease of osteoporosis. The same became true for Restless Leg Syndrome, Irritable Bladder, and a host of mental health disorders. More Americans take medications than ever before. American youth take medications at greater levels than ever previously. Pregnant American women use more prescription medication than ever before. When the Wall Street Journal recently printed an article entitled “The Medication Generation”, the number of dollars these prescriptions generate annually was staggering. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Yet, next May 2013 the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” or DSM-5 will be released during the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association with sobering updates. According to Robert Fulford in his editorial “Feeding the Illness Industry Machine” published in the 8/18/12 edition of the National Post “the medicalization of everyday life is progressing with astonishing speed”. Click here to read further Bereavement is no longer the natural process of grieving the loss of beloved friend or family member and now along with sadness are both candidates for professional attention. We have already been amazed that severe pre-menstrual symptoms have been an official disease as has shyness anxiety disorder.

Binge eating, now dubbed BED for binge-eating disorder, has been elevated from the appendix with other rookie disorders to a distinct category of eating disorder. Eating Disorder Hope, an online publication, actually celebrates that turn of events in its August issue. They also note BED can now be covered by their health insurance.

In an American culture paradigm shift from that of can-do to that of victim status, are we now searching for a diagnosis of our mental health quirks and reactions to life’s challenges as an official disease so that our health insurance covers the freely prescribed medications all to feed the illness industry machine? Dr. Sally Satel’s “One Nation Under Therapy”; click here to read further points out to us “Suffering or discontent of any kind is not ennobling but pathological and must be treated ” Truly there has been a culture shift among American mothers. My mother’s oft repeated “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit” must have been replaced along the way.

American consumers are revered the world-over for their savviness that drives the American free-market system. No consumer likes to be the sucker. But the upcoming DSM-5 indicates widespread suckers among American health care consumers. Diagnosis can take on a life of their own. Medical physicians, researchers, and authors like Peter Breggin, MD have pointed out in books like “Your Drug May be Your Problem” that we do not know the long-term consequences of the use of psychotropic drugs. Click here to read further  Young, developing brains may be even more susceptible to temporary or even permanent changes triggered by the use of these medications.

As disturbing is the subjective nature of how these medications are prescribed. There are no tests, no scans, nothing objective used, for example, to diagnose Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Yet, now 1 in 6 American children are classified with a learning or behavior according to Phil Landrigan,MD’s work at the Mt Sinai School of Medicine. With 80% of psychotropic medication prescribed in the U.S by physicians other than psychiatrists, why wouldn’t consumers demand more rigorous standards for diagnosis, treatment options, and the right to know who paid for the studies that have created these sentencing guidelines for physicians. In his book “On the Take: How Medicine’s Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health”. Dr. Jerome Kassirer reveals just how astounding the dollars are that influence the psychiatric medical community. Click here to read in further detail

There is a distinct corollary between the American medical disease care system and the American financial crisis now at hand. Are we prepared to pull up our socks and develop character from adversity or have we been culturally conditioned to believe that a pill (or printing money) will make it better? Are we prepared to make hard, fundamental choices at the ballot box regarding our responsibility for our own health care? Relinquishing the responsibility for our health care to a federal government that has repeatedly shown its susceptibility to outside influence is scary to me. Government-run health care appears to be far away from the best patient care to a foreign mentality that someone else knows what is best for me. I have grieved in my life, been sad, and paid a lot of stupid tax. Never did I think I had a mental disorder that a pill might address. There is definitely a time and place for psychotropic medication. My personal opinion is that it is the treatment of last resort and not the first it has become. Perhaps it is time to stop “feeding the illness industry machine”.