Big Pharma At It Again: Disease Mongering for Profit

big pharma

As shameless as ever, Big Pharma is aggressively medicalizing the problems of living as they pursue obscene profits. Their latest disease mongering campaign, promoting the drug Flibanserin, is aimed at women. Like cancer causing Premarin, hyped for its ability to slow aging, and Sarafem (recently linked to birth defects), hyped for its effectiveness in industry-created “premenstrual dysphoric disorder”.

Originally developed by Boehringer Ingelheim, this new drug has been acquired by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, a company launched in 2011 to develop products for female sexual health (i.e. to cash in on the $1.5 billion Viagra market). It allegedly treats “low sexual arousal disorder” in women.

Taken Everyday, Potentially for Years

Last week the Telegraph reported that two key FDA advisory committees are recommending approval of Flibanserin, also known as “pink Viagra.” Despite its nickname, Flibanserin is nothing like Viagra. While a man only takes Viagra when he wants to have sex, Flibanserin is more like an antidepressant and must be taken everyday, potentially for years.

Pink Viagra works by combining a Viagra-like chemical that stimulates blood flow to the genitals with a small dose of testosterone, which stimulates sex drive in women. According to the Guardian, early clinical trials indicate the drug is only slightly more effective than placebo. On average, women taking the drug have 0.8 more “satisfying sexual events” per month. Flibanserin also has some pretty nasty side effects, including dizziness, sleepiness, fainting, nausea, fatigue and insomnia. The other downside is that the drug’s concentration (and side effects) increase if the woman drinks alcohol, or takes birth control pills or medications for vaginal infections, migraine or depression.

Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals

The Telegraph article quotes journalist Ray Moynihan, author of Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals, who describes female sexual dysfunction as a clear example of “corporate-sponsored creation of a disease.” And gynecologist Dr Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, who points out that low sexual desire, especially in women, is intricately linked to a person’s life and relationships. If a woman is depressed or stressed out from looking after kids and/or aging parents on top of her double role as breadwinner and homemaker, she’s very unlikely to be interested in sex – especially if her partner is unsympathetic and unsupportive.

Writing in the Daily Mail, psychologist and sex researcher Dr Petra Boynton complains that the corporate media promotes highly unrealistic expectations of sex (lots of it with mind-blowing multiple orgasms), just as they do about women’s appearance (thin, young-looking, with perfect faces and breasts).

My Own Clinical Experience

I totally agree with Boynton and Goldbeck-Wood. When I worked with women in Seattle, low sexual desire nearly always stemmed from unresolved relationship issues. Often when women felt totally dominated and controlled by their partner, saying no in the bedroom was their only opportunity to assert themselves. Other women complained they got nothing out of sex because their partner couldn’t or wouldn’t address their sexual needs.

Population studies suggest that approximately 50% of women require direct stimulation because they don’t climax through vaginal intercourse. The scientific literature is silent on the unwillingness of men to engage in oral sex. However based on what I read in social media, I suspect it remains a significant source of conflict among couples.

Astroturfing* Flibanseerin

Typically Big Pharma has created two Astroturf* groups, Eventhe Score and WomenDeserve. Both have accused the FDA of sexism for their reluctance to approve Flibanserin. According to the Daily Mail, EventheScore is claiming a biological lack of sexual desire negatively impacts 1 in 10 American women. This is pure corporate hype, as there is no biological marker or threshold for abnormally low desire.

My biggest concern is that FDA approval will lead to women being pressured to take a drug with potentially serious side effects – either by their partner or by the same phoney media marketing that induces them to spend millions of dollars on cosmetics, weight loss products and plastic surgery. In contemporary society, full equality and full control over their own bodies is still a long way off for most women.

 


* Astrotrufing is the creation of apparent public support by corporations who pay people or groups to pretend to be supportive. This false support can take the form of letters to the editor, postings on social media lobbying politicians in support of the cause.

photo credit: Prescription Prices Ver5 via photopin (license)

22 thoughts on “Big Pharma At It Again: Disease Mongering for Profit

  1. Do you suppose big pharma will ever run out of ‘phoo hooey’ to sell???…. (I always wished my eyes were BROWN instead of BLUE… have they come out with a pill for that yet??…. lol… 🙂

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    • I think the only way we can stop this is to a) refuse to buy their crap b) become more proficient in keeping ourselves healthy by ignoring the diet western medicine wants us to eat (which is making us fat and giving us diabetes and heart disease)

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  2. Sometimes I’m in the mood. Sometimes I’m not. It’s also a two way street. If you love and respect one another, it’s not an issue. That doesn’t mean there are “more” satisfying events per month. It means that when it does happen, the moment of desire was mutual and the encounter satisfying. Less can be more, and more a chore.

    And no, not everything is a medical issue. More often than not it’s the stress and fatigue of keeping it all together. And to my mind, there are genuine hormonal differences — generally speaking — between men and women: yes, that thing called testosterone. Furthermore, didn’t I read something somewhere a long time ago about oral contraceptives (i.e., estrogen) being supressive of testosterone? Is it a wonder, then, that many women do not turn on the way that men generally do?

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the ‘cultural’ expectation — industry driven and instigated — is out of step with what under the circumstances should reasonably be expected.

    I agree: creating needless worry where none should in fact exist guarantees profits. And don’t they know it.

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    • You make some great points, Norman. In my experience, women definitely have a clear estrus cycle like all other mammals, ie they are most interested in sex during the 5 days in their cycle when they are fertile. The evidence contradicts the hype we were taught in medical school – that human females, unlike all the lower animals, are 100% receptive to sex every day of the month. I’ve worked with many women who have no libido at all in the 10 days prior to their menses – and I think it’s frankly dangerous to try to alter that physiology withe pharmaceuticals.

      And you’re right about contraceptives suppressing libido – both estrogen and progesterone suppress sex drive. And it’s senseless to introduce a 2nd pill to counteract the first pill.

      Moreover while testosterone administration can increase sex drive in women, more recent research suggest that oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone probably plays a bigger role physiologically.

      Like you say, like most of the marketing we’re exposed to, the whole idea is to make us feel anxious and insecure unless we buy their products.

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    • I don’t have any particular bias against Forbes. They’re often willing to cover controversial topics (such as this one) that the rest of the corporate media won’t touch. You don’t hear about Viagra deaths very often, so I suspect it’s fairly rare.

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  3. Corporate sexualisation of just about everything is a deliberate strategy to take our attention from the real issue: the rape of the planet by bankers/financiers and transnational rip-off merchants. Let’s not be distracted!

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  4. Well, they can just go F**K themselves because not even Flibanserin can unlock MY chastity belt! I am equally livid, furious, angry, red hot and boiling over with regards to this constant assault on women, especially when it has to do with sexually gratifying the male because that is what it’s ALL about, that and PROFIT.

    Even when you look at the commercials for Cialis and Viagra, they use women to promote medication to help men get a ‘boner’. And stupid ass women, for money, will go along with anything! Who should we really blame? Advertising? Big pharma? Men? I say, we start with ourselves because we buy into the bullshit!

    Thanks for posting this Dr. Bramhall. It is relevant even if most refuse to wake up to what’s happening.

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    • Shelby, you nailed it. It’s all about sexually gratifying the male for profit. What I really worry about is teenage girls who grow up in an emotional ghetto because both their parents are busting their ass trying to put food on the table. Without a healthy adult influence in their lives, they’re incredibly susceptible to the mind warping propaganda that bombards them from age 3 on that women aren’t worth shit if they don’t have perfect faces and bodies and the attention of a man. I really think we need to start going after the advertisers who use devious psychological techniques to brainwash girls this way.

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      • You are right Dr. Bramhall! We do. Because if we don’t, we are doing a serious disservice to young, impressionable girls and sadly, it is already affecting them. Yes, indeed, we got work to do!

        Thanks again Dr. Bramhall!

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  5. Pingback: Vaccines: Genetically Re-Engineering Humans! | An Outsider's Sojourn II

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