Friday, March 18, 2011

Patient Advocates, or Unwitting Drug Company Shills?

In my post of May 3, Preying on Human Misery, I discussed how big Pharma took advantage of the parental desperation that I described again in the recent (February 26) post, Couch Potatoes UnleashedMany of today's parents absolutely panic whenever their kids start acting out or having even the most inconsequential of emotional problems.  They at first obsess about whether or not they might have done something terribly wrong to cause it, but soon begin to look for something else to blame - anything else - that might account for the problem that does not involve family relationships.

Thinking their children's problems might be due to family discord tends to make them feel even guiltier and even more panicky. Often they do not realize that it is their own guilty and panicky behavior which feeds into their kid's problems and makes those problems far worse then they might be otherwise.  And thus, a vicious circle is created.  More parental guilt and anxiety leads to more acting out and more emotional distress in the child, which leads to more parental guilt and anxiety, and so forth.

A few years ago, Big Pharma took one look at the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) and decided that here was a great population to exploit in their continued efforts to expand the definition of bipolar disorder in order to sell more atypical antipsychotics to unsuspecting patients (See my post of March 22, The Zyprexa Documents).

They helped fund the CABF and used their paid-off "experts" like Joseph Biederman, as well as their sophisticated psychological marketing techniques, to spread the word that  a brain disease was the source of these children's problems, and that their medications were the solution.  Soon, entire families began to label their members with various and sundry psychiatric disorders, a few of which were completely bogus, and others of which they simply did not have.

To their credit, CABF eventually stopped accepting drug company money.  But by then the damage had already been done.

Big PhARMA's strategy of using advocacy groups to increase sales was by no means limited to CABF, and by no means limited to psychiatry.  This marketing strategy is ingenious, hard to catch, very sneaky, and very effective. According to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health, not-for-profit patient health advocacy groups like the American Diabetes Association also get money from drug companies in the form of grants that—more often than not—are not disclosed to the public by those groups. 

These grants are not made because the drug companies have the best interests of the common man at heart.  What they want is for the patient groups to help push their drugs and medical devices.  It works.

The National Alliance on Mentally Illness (NAMI) has been a major target for Big Pharma.  This group was already on the warpath against psychotherapists - particularly family therapists and psychoanalysts - for unfairly blaming major mental illnesses like schizophrenia and autism on poor parenting.  Many members were all too anxious to absolve dysfunctional family interactions of having any role at all in any psychiatric disorder or behavior problem at all for the reasons discussed above, and so became easy targets for the pharmaceutical industry.

Like the famed Pied Piper, the industry played a tune that members of the advocacy group were delighted to hear - that they had absolutely no control over the way their children acted or turned out, and that the proper medication would solve all of their problems.
The website ProPublica reports: 

"From 2006 to 2008, the group took in nearly $23 million in drug company donations—about three-quarters of its fund-raising. At the time, NAMI’s executive director told The New York Times that “the percentage of money from pharma has been higher than we have wanted it to be” and promised greater disclosures.

In the area of neurosciences, [drug company Eli] Lilly gave NAMI $450,000 for its Campaign for the Mind of America. NAMI has advocated that cost should not be a consideration when prescribing for patients. 'For the most severely disabled,' insisted NAMI, ‘effective treatment often means access to the newest medications such as atypical anti- psychotic and anti-depressive agents. . . . Doctors must be allowed to utilize the latest breakthrough in medical science . . . without bureaucratic restrictions to the access for life-saving medications.’ To the degree that NAMI’s campaign succeeded, the market for Lilly’s neuroscience drugs expanded."

PhARMA marketing departments often seem to know more psychology than many mental health providers.


  1. They don't just use the advocacy groups, they create them through control of the parent organizations. Also they indoctrinate the rank and file advocates through things such as 10 day/session courses complete with step by step syllabus for written by Pharma Orgs with un-cited Biomed conclusions etc.

    They even set up patients as leaders of these organizations - the perfect figurehead execs - because they won't make independent decisions but will secretly and only take direction and advice from those supplying their meds or those closely affiliated with their med dependency sources.

    The Pharma connection almost can't be traced. We have, for instance a Provincial Mental Health Unit for a small city in which salaries are paid by the Government to social workers, directors etc, and it serves as outreach and control of a segment of the population ...but then the executive which make decisions for them is a "volunteer committee"! taken from the city's social elite.
    How they are appointed, what connections , advice and directions they take from the Biomed Industry, and Biomed hospitals is totally hidden and totally closed.
    They are behind an Iron Curtain as it will. I, to this date, can't find a thing about their power structure beyond that.

    One of the affiliate societies for one of the mental illnesses closed down a large successful branch in a major city - without explanation to anyone. A sign of possible corruption to my suspicion - but they account to no one at the upper levels and they have zero public accountability.
    What Pharma connections go on there is cannot be known. It is not all direct money payoffs. The Pharma Industry means big Buck Careers for many many affiliate industries - even social workers - it is a classic set of interrelated power industries the definition of a financial elite.
    There certainly are no bucks in effective genuine psychotherapy being doled out.

    1. I don't think it's as conspiratorial as all that--a sibling of mine is the head of the board for NAMI in an American city right now, I've had big problems for years with NAMI (mainly its emphasis on psychopharmaceuticals and the fact that it seems to represent the interests of *parents* of people with diagnoses rather than the "patients" themselves) but no one's giving her secret's more people who can't really look at themselves (for whatever reason) and tend to believe whatever "professionals" say.

      (Having said that NAMI has adopted some very clear recovery-oriented changes to their protocols this past year, I'm almost tempted to renew my membership [if for no other reason than they're the only group which really seems to have any influence on legislators]).