Television programs and films often reveal truths about our world and culture that we either don’t know or prefer to ignore. While viewing a Netflix film, Miss Sloane, I became reacquainted with the world of lobbying and public relations in the service of substantial corporate interests.
It was a rude reminder of what I witnessed and how the public needs to rein in their gullibility in medicine, medical advances, and treatments. We are now seeing major campaigns in the service of medications. You know the ones that tell you to “Ask your doctor.” Is your doctor informed enough to advise you, or did they receive materials from a company?
In my experience, two significant areas of medicine cried out for remediation, and public relations was waiting with open arms; Alzheimer’s disease and anxiety. With an aging US population and a burgeoning one worldwide, SDAT is prime for anyone who wants to help or become incredibly wealthy. The silver tsunami is rolling over us as medicine keeps us living longer. The firm with the first patented SDAT “cure” or effective treatment for SDAT will make billions.
My respect for Dr. Jonas Salk has grown because he did not patent the rights to his polio vaccine. A similar instance of research integrity and ethics has been shown by Dr. Peter Hotez and his co-researcher, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi. They created a patent-free, low-cost vaccine for Covid-19, not so in the case of the HeLa cells on which millions were made, and that helped to originate vaccine production.
Anxiety, a mental health disorder that can be crippling in nature, affects approximately 284 million worldwide. When you have those numbers, the possibilities are highly enticing in terms of PR and money to be made.
But so are sleep disorders, where up to 60% of patients may have insomnia. Have you noticed how much attention sleep is receiving, especially when there’s a major conference? I’ve been to the conference, served in the press r, written the releases, bought the morning buffet goodies, and met the experts. Eye-opening, to say the least.
Now we come to the question of patient advocacy and who originates or funds it. Skeptics will pooh-poo such questions stating we need advocates to lobby for effective treatments. But do they spring up out of patient-caregiver zeal, or are they promoted for different purposes?
Of course, we want medications or treatments to address the need, and numbers must be used to lobby those who can supply the resources. Primarily, this means donations from the public or, more likely, from the government that will fund research.
Advocacy groups in which I once played a small part, are created by pharmaceutical firms that seek out famous persons or suffering patients to be the faces of their campaigns. I know that when we were working on anxiety disorders, our personnel tried furiously to find famous people (they shall remain nameless here) with serious anxiety disorders. The staff found a famous TV weatherman, a famous singer, an actor who drank himself to sleep, at least one actress with panic disorder, another who had bipolar disorder, and one was an incredibly wealthy man — who remained hidden from everyone’s view.
Assuredly, we need attention and in seeking the help these patients deserve, we have to make Faustian deals. Reviled as they may be, they are necessary to get the funding wheels turning. But always keep in mind that they are not as pure as the driven snow. And entertainers are paid to appear in service of the products — they aren’t experts. Your next-door neighbor might be as knowledgeable.
Disorders may be treated because someone has a new “cure” for it and the only way to make money is by advocacy. Do we have pharmaceuticals in search of a disorder? I’ve heard that question asked.
I’ll close, as I often do, with the proviso; caveat emptor.