Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prozac, Drug Companies and the "Normality Myth"

See the man on the right? The man with the self-satisfied grin that cries out "rich bastard"?? Well, he's been, allegedly, selling a lie. A lie, allegedly, that has made him a lot of money. You may, at this point, be wondering why I am using the phrase "allegedly" so frequently at the moment. Well, I'm a coward and he is a CEO of a major pharmaceutical and they tend to be a little litigious. This man is, in fact, Sidney Taurel the chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly, the manufacturers of Prozac. A drug that is the centre of a new storm of controversy surrounding the drug industry.

The following is lifted from The Independent:

The pharmaceutical industry came under assault from senior figures in medical research yesterday over its practice of withholding information to protect profits, exposing patients to drugs which could be useless or harmful.

Experts criticised the stranglehold exerted by multinational companies over clinical trials, which has led to biased results, under-reporting of negative findings and selective publication driven by the market, which was worth £10.1bn in the UK in 2006, amounting to 11 per cent of total NHS costs.

The latest attack was triggered yesterday by an analysis of published and unpublished trials of modern antidepressants, including Prozac and Seroxat, showing they offer no clinically significant improvement over placebos (dummy pills) in most patients. But doctors said patients on the drugs should not stop taking them without consulting their GPs.

While I would accept that, in some cases, the prescribing of such drugs is necessary, the massive growth in their usage has been part of a disturbing trend in the last twenty years. What we have seen in the recent past is an attempt by certain sections of the medical profession trying to sell us the myth of "normal behaviour". This myth sought to stigmatise any extremes in human behaviour as abnormal, particularly if these were negative emotions. Suddenly, we no longer feel sadness or sorrow, we feel "depression". Suddenly, we were told that this is not "normal" behaviour and treatment must be sought. As Christopher Lane explained in his book, "Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness":

"Before you sell a drug, you have to sell the disease."

This has certainly proved to be the case. And the drug companies have been quick to seize an opportunity to diagnose a new illness and sell us a wonderful "cure".

However, it is not only financial gain that has proved an attractive aspect of the "normality myth". It is one thing creating a myth for financial gain, sustaining the momentum behind the initial surge is more difficult to maintain. In order for this to occur, there needs to be more than just a massive marketing campaign, there needs to be a massive cultural shift. And this is where the establishment, and particularly the media, come into play. While the "normality myth" is an opportunity for the drug companies, they need a concerted effort by various other interests to propagate this myth and make it believable. This myth has particular advantages for the establishment. A society that conforms to an agreed behaviour pattern is much easier to control. By prescribing drugs such as Prozac to people behaving outside these norms, they hope to normalise their behaviour and thus make them easier to manage. A people that behave within certain boundaries are easier to predict. People who behave outside the realms of the "normality myth" are hard to predict and, therefore, difficult to control. In short, the growth of the industry surrounding the "normality myth" has been part of an effort to make it easier to predict an otherwise unpredictable populace.

The exposure of the reality of this particular aspect of the drug industry should come as no surprise to those who follow developments within the industry. The pretence that they are there for the common good is exactly that, pretence. Drug companies are there to seek out opportunities and make a profit. If that means concocting an illness to further their business, so be it. To believe anything else is to be incredibly naive.