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Evil Marketing Geniuses

The health care field has evolved into a facade for the business of selling drugs. The pharmaceutical industry spends more than $4 billion a year to market drugs to consumers in the United States and more than $16 billion to market them to physicians. Moreover, they have come up with some of the most effective and creative marketing schemes in history. One strategy is to create an illness where none existed before so drugmakers can offer an expensive solution. Does this sound too incredible to be true?

To be sure, let's examine the cholesterol issue. In 2001 Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., dean and medical provost of Cornell University Medical College, N.Y. spoke at a press conference at the XII International Symposium on Atherosclerosis and predicted more than half the population of the United States could one day be taking daily doses of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

As if to make Dr. Gotto's prediction true, later in 2001, the drug companies were able to manipulate the National Cholesterol Education Program committee to change the 1993 guidelines for treating those with cholesterol. They modified the recommendations to include anyone with an LDL (bad cholesterol) level from 130 to 100 to be a candidate for drug therapy. This one change increased their potential market in the United States alone by more than 36 million people. This tripled the number of people that were eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications.

Then, in 2004, the same federal committee reduced the level even further to 70. It is difficult to obtain estimates but it is likely that this added tens of millions of potential new candidates for their expensive solution.

What is their solution? Using drugs that in no way shape or form treat the problem and are required to be taken indefinitely. Lipitor along generates more than $10 billion dollars a year in annual sales.

Expect a similar boost in interest and commerce when Teva Pharmaceuticals receives an anticipated final approval for a generic version of Zocor, shortly after Merck's exclusive patent for the blockbuster cholesterol drug expires late this month.

Forbes.com May 26, 2006

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