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Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients Hardcover – June 24, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Science and medicine writers Moynihan and Cassels conjecture that most Americans believe, based on information gleaned from a deluge of pharmaceutical-company advertisements, that conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, menopause, and chronic constipation are bona fide diseases. They quote reputable medical experts, however, who refute such understandings. What's more, they suggest that billions of precious and diminishing health-care dollars are squandered treating those nondiseases of healthy, wealthy Americans and would be better spent treating the legitimately sick poor and fighting the international AIDS epidemic. Quoting former Merck CEO Henry Gadsen--who, in a 1976 Fortune article, confessed that "it had long been his dream to make drugs for healthy people. Because then, Merck would be able to 'sell to everyone'"--they lay the blame for the misdirected billions at the feet of just such pharmaceutical giants as Merck. Finally, they counterpoint glossy pharmaceutical ad campaigns with alternatives that consumers may consider before asking their doctors for prescription drugs they saw touted on TV. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; 1 edition (June 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560256974
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560256977
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 8.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alice Friedemann on September 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
After oil production peaks, higher energy prices are likely to sink the world economy into a never-ending depression, so it will be important to stay healthy, because everything, and especially medical costs, are likely to be more expensive in the future. Before you incur high medical costs you can little afford, make sure you're even ill first. A great deal of fat could be cut out of the health care system right now and used instead to help people who are truly ill.

Getting healthy people to buy drugs they don't need, which won't cure what they don't have, and potentially have unpleasant to dire side effects, sounds like such a crazy premise, even Hollywood wouldn't buy it.

Yet that's just what's happened, as Moynihan and Cassels document in their book "Selling Sickness". The 500 billion dollar pharmaceutical industry has plenty of money to spend convincing us that our ordinary travails mask mental illnesses, and common aches and pains need treatment.

Americans represent five percent of the world's population, but we consume fifty percent of prescription drugs.

Millions of healthy people have asked their doctor about that purple pill they saw on television, or been given drugs pushed by the army of 80,000 drug salesmen who've influenced your doctor with free lunches and far more.

Many people now take drugs that may have harmful side effects and won't make much of a difference in improving their health. Hormone replacement therapy turned out to increase the chance of heart attacks for women, one of the blockbuster cholesterol lowering drugs was withdrawn from the market because it was implicated in causing deaths.

The FDA isn't looking out for you either, as shown in the chapter on irritable bowel syndrome.
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Format: Paperback
The marketing strategies of the world's biggest drug companies now aggressively target the healthy and the well. Common complaints have been transferred into frightening conditions and more and more ordinary people turned into patients. The drug companies have found that there's a lot of money to be made telling healthy people they're sick. With less than 5% of the world's population, the U.S. makes up over 50% of the world market for prescription drugs. Ironically, these much-hyped medicines sometimes cause more harm than good; another problem is that drug companies encourage over-reliance on drugs - instead of smoking cessation and exercise.

After this introduction, "Selling Sickness" goes on to cover examples in cholesterol, depression, high blood pressure, etc. Cholesterol, for example, has become a $25 billion, rapidly-expanding industry, even though cholesterol is only one of several factors affecting health, and for many, not a factor at all. As with many other conditions, the definition of what constitutes "high cholesterol" is regularly revised. In the latest instance (2004), eight of the nine experts on the panel also served as paid speakers, consultants, or researchers to the world's major drug companies. In most cases the experts had ties to at least four of the companies.

It is estimated that almost 90% of those writing guidelines have conflicts of interest because of financial ties to the industry. Close to half the billion/year funding for medical education comes from drug companies. About 300,000 meetings, events, and conferences are sponsored by the industry each year, often hosted by societies like the American Heart Association, partly funded by the drug companies as well. These entangled relationships are often not revealed.
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6 Comments 78 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent exposé of 10 or more examples of manufactured or exaggerated illness, from adult attention deficit disorder to osteoporosis. Overblown promotions of drugs and concealment of drug side-effects well explained. Big Pharma's use of public relations firms to create fear of some more or less normal condition is shown. Big Pharma's capture of the FDA and other agencies is shown.

Big Pharma's secret ownership of some patient support groups is shown, as is its control of much Continuing Medical Education. Its lobbying is legendary.

Even if you know about this disgrace in the USA, there are many aspects that may be new to you, so read this book.

Easy to read, good referencing, decent index.

Weak technically, but this might have been a desire not to stress the reader. Still, authors seem unaware that older people with the highest cholesterol and LDL levels live the longest (Schupf N, Costa R, Luchsinger J, et al. (2005). Relationship Between Plasma Lipids and All-Cause Mortality in Nondemented Elderly. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53:219-226.), or that blood pressure rises naturally with age, and only the top 10% of BP levels can be treated with any benefit.
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Format: Hardcover
Just a humorous aside to start. I found it amusing that the two lowest ratings in these online reviews came from physicians. Does this speak to the point made in the book that the perception of ties between Pharma and the doctors is all too real?

I enjoyed this book immensely. The ideas presented in this book have been running around in my mind for a while now. I get ill just wathcing these drug commercials and any intelligent person should see that the details presented about these new conditions are skewed towards a particular drug. This should inspire caution on our part.

These days, if you do not have the right disease, you are just behind the times. I get the feeling that we WANT to be sick, or is it just that we as a whole have a proclivity towards a quick fix from the trials and tribulations of everday life?

My one problem with the book is that it seemed overly repetetive in some passages and could have benefitted from better editing. As another reviewer put it: It seemed rushed. But the message is good and the ideas are presented well. It is a well documented book, so further research can be done by the serious individual that may need a bit more information to see that it is not wool that is being pulled over our eyes, but Prozac over our minds.

Mr. P.
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