British readers may not realise that in the United States it is common for drug companies to ply their wares direct to ‘consumers’ through television and magazine advertising.
In The Nation, two journalists uncover how this practice is leading to Big Pharma extending its market from ill people to the perfectly healthy – a prime candidate being women of childbearing age.
The makers of antidepressent Prozac have rebranded their product with lots of pretty flowers, and are targeting it at women with severe PMS, or PMDD – a ‘disease’ that some scientists deny even exists. In fact, some argue that this type of advertising is leading to the medicalisation of perfectly normal life-experiences. Given the description of this, since withdrawn, ad for the drug, it’s not hard to see why:
‘An anonymous woman tries to disentangle a shopping cart from an interlocked row of them, outside a suburban store. She is frustrated and angry. She becomes even more exasperated when another shopper enters the frame, calmly unhooks a cart and glides smoothly on her way. Watching this TV advertisement unfold, it might look like the woman is experiencing little more than a normal bout of tension or stress. But the folks at the drug company Lilly know better. This woman may need a powerful antidepressant because she is suffering from a severe form of mental illness known as PMDD. “Think it’s PMS? It could be PMDD,” intones the voiceover.’