Stomach hurt? Chew this, drink this, pop this.
Is anything ailing, aching, or troubling you?
Just turn on the tube. Be a curious consumer! Many options are available that you can discuss with your doctor.
Thus arrived the onslaught as I was watching television the other night, overwhelmed by the steady stream of messages from Big Pharma.
Also worthy of remark: The symptoms require less time to describe than the lengthy lists of side effects.
Calling Dr. Kildare, Dr. Casey, Dr. Welby…
I turned off the television, disturbed by the trend to treat every source of discomfort with a prescription, especially when these conditions may be a variation of normal rather than cause for medical alarm.
Stressed? Pop a pill. Beat? Pop another. Can’t sleep? Allow me to present you my fine assortment of OTC drugs, and otherwise a slew of physician-ordered options.
So whatever happened to a solid meal, a two-mile walk, and a glass of warm milk before bed?
Oh, right. That was another generation. Calling Dr. Kildare… Calling Dr. Casey… Calling Dr. Welby… or maybe, Dr. Kiley on his motorcycle!
Scare Tactics? Nah. Creating “Demand.”
While those Big Pharma ads were repeating like a bad meal, I have no doubt that many of these drugs are of significant assistance. Yet something in the “ask your doctor about…” verbiage – a direct request from pharmaceutical company to the end consumer – echoes of snake oil salesman, at least in my book.
Wait. Allow me to rephrase. I shall don my Marketing Hat and use the terms “boosting awareness” and “creating demand.”
Scare tactics in advertising have been around forever. Still, I find the enumeration of risks – heart attack, stroke, impotence, you name it – leaves me shaking in my high-heeled boots and wondering which is worse, the so-called disease or the cure.
Just how much malaise are we injecting into the everyday psyche? To what extent is our dis-ease one of creative created demand?
Shall we consider the increase in numbers of kids diagnosed with ADHD, and the necessary meds to treat the condition? Shall we stress over our own hypertension, causing the BP to rise while we’re at it? What about our men who are counseled to submit to the controversial PSA?
Naturally, there is a real need for taking these conditions seriously. Likewise, we’re lucky to avail ourselves of useful diagnostics and an effective Rx. To have access to pharmacological solutions can be hugely helpful, but I’m staggered at the prevalence of prescription advertising, and concerned that it is reinforcing our dismissal of common sense.
Problems Where They Don’t Exist
In the wake of my annoyance over the ads on television, I was ripe for this opinion piece in The New York Times. In “Calling an Ordinary Health Problem a Disease Leads to Bigger Problems,” Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, cites several examples and offers this:
Allowing the medicalization of normal variations in physiology to be transformed into “treatable conditions” is leading to unintended consequences. We’re spending billions of dollars on treatments that might not, or don’t, work. We’re making people worry when they don’t have to…
I recall visits over the years to various providers, where I was the recipient of an unrequested free sample of the latest decongestant or antidepressant. I needed neither; I politely declined.
In my own experience, I find a great deal of logic in Dr. Carroll’s arguments.
Planting the Seeds of Worry
Our teachers are also involved in the cycle of worries. When my boys were in preschool, I was told that one son might be hyperactive (he was boisterous and gregarious), while his younger brother was too quiet. I ignored the hyperactive comments outright, but was nonetheless persuaded to take my other little boy for evaluation. There, I was subsequently informed that he was at the low end of the communication spectrum and off the charts on fine motor skills.
The “experts” ignored the latter and focused on the former, a “problem” they counseled me to address with a specialist.
Here, too, I politely declined. My child spoke when he had something to say, and in the meantime, I kept him in crayons.
Too Much or Too Little Medical Information?
Ask me if I have more (helpful) medical information now than 20 years ago, and I will say yes. Ask me if I have too much (“helpful”) medical information, both confusing and alarming, and again I say yes.
Ask me about my level of trust for the medical establishment, and I am clear: The trust that I once felt is long gone, the result of my experience of doctor-patient non-relationship: less dialog, less touch, more testing, more prescriptions, and virtually no follow-up.
Fortunately, I have known exceptions.
An Rx for Good Judgment
A random thought… We harp on the helicopter parent for her (or his) excessive child-focus, to the detriment of developing skills necessary for independence. How might the medicalization of all issues deemed “abnormal” be contributing to this?
My response concerning my quiet child was viewed by some with surprise. My refusal to lap up what the evaluators were dishing out was, apparently, unusual. I gave more credence to my own understanding of my son than to a few individuals who stood to gain from funneling him through their (for profit) system.
As for Big Pharma and its increasing role in our daily lives, we could remind ourselves the burgeoning business of the prescription business is just that. Business. This doesn’t mean we will not benefit, only that a reasonable dose of “buyer beware” is warranted.
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