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The Low Art of Disease-Mongering

No doubt, you recall a number of articles I've posted about the "art" of disease-mongering among the mega-drug companies looking to keep their coffers flush with cash by inventing non-existent diseases and exaggerating minor conditions like restless leg syndrome (RLS).

That's the gist of this excellent Washington Post piece about the "marketing" of RLS by GlaxoSmithKline whose drug Requip (ropinrole) was conveniently and recently approved by the FDA.

And, just so patients didn't forget about Requip, Glaxo spent $27 million in 2005 alone on advertising, certainly chump change in the pharmaceutical world, but a great investment, considering American sales of the drug have jumped some 50 percent to $146 million.

A growing number of doctors like me, however, are very concerned drug ads like the ones hawking Requip blur the line considerably between fact and fantasy, prompting patients to ask for potentially health-harming drugs they often don't need. What makes matters worse, no studies have been conducted on Requip to determine if there's any danger in taking it over the long term.

A great quote from a University California at Davis sums up the necessity for Requip perfectly: The argument the phamaceutical industry is always making is that (advertising) is patient education -- that this is an under-diagnosed condition and "we're trying to raise awareness." But if you're talking about toenail fungus or baldness or restless leg syndrome, I just don't buy it.

Washington Post May 30, 2006

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