Drug companies are in a no-win situation when it comes to advertising. If they advertise or promote a product they are seen as ‘pushers’, shamelessly increasing societies’ dependancy on chemicals, stimulants and drugs. But if they don’t promote their product then patients who could benefit from a drug might not get it because their doctors are not aware of it. Its an ethical minefield that is very hard to traverse.
The Daily Telegraph is running a story ADHD advice secretly paid for by drugs companies about how two UK organisations for ADD / ADHD sufferers have received money from Janssen-Cilag, which makes Concerta, and other companies. The story is reasonably well balanced: “Andrea Bilbow, the founder and chief executive of [National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service] (ADDISS) … said: ‘From time to time we do go to the pharmaceutical companies to ask for money, but we are not getting massive amounts. We don’t sell our soul to the devil but we can’t survive without them.’ Ms Bilbow said that she did not identify the companies which have funded her charity on its internet site because to do so would be giving them ‘something in return’“.
There is a big difference between the UK and US approach to medicine and advertising. In the US, drug companies can advertise directly to consumers, which has been cited as a major factor in the growth of ADD / ADHD diagnosis. In the UK where advertising to the public isn’t allowed, the growth of ADHD diagnosis is a lot slower. However most of the money drug companies spend on marketing is aimed at doctors. After all, they are the only people who can actually prescribe the drugs. There have been numerous studies on the interaction between drug companies and doctors, e.g. Does drug promotion adversely influence doctors’ abilities to make the best decisions for patients? which found “the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies is shown to be problematic in a way that might negatively impact on patient care.”
All is not lost. Some doctors are now rejecting all the freebies they get from drug companies. Groups such as No Free Lunch are encouraging doctors to give up their ‘addiction’ to the drug company’s dollar. You the patient can help. Next time you are seeing the doctor for your ADHD medication, see what logo they have on their coffee mug, ask them how many times a week they eat out on the drug companies’ expense. Let the doctor know you are concerned that they are being influenced and that the influence might be detrimental to your health.
Other peoples opinions on this subject: The Marketing Of ADHD: Public Service, Corporate Greed Or Business As Usua, How Drug Companies Spin Doctors