Once every few years I go to my local Psychiatric Society meeting, it’s a chance to socialize with my colleagues (and remind them I’m still alive). This month’s annual Fall Social event was sponsored by a major pharmaceutical manufacturer (which always means good food and drink).
The program was entitled “Why Advocacy Matters” and featured local politicians, the Society’s lobbyist, and “Bobbi” the company’s spokesperson encouraged us to speak up and let our voices be heard on important legislative issues that affect us and our patients. “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil” and doctors are notoriously poor advocates as compared to lawyers for example who contribute 10 times more money to ensure their influence.
During the Q & A, I asked Bobbi how much her company had contributed to advocacy last year. She took a step back, paused a moment and said, “I’ve heard this before and I’m not going there. No! No! I’m not going there”, and took another question.
Where Bobbie didn’t want to go was that when it comes to a squeaky wheel influencing policy in Washington, no industry games the system better than the pharmaceutical industry. Between 2009-2011 Big Pharma spent more than $700 million on lobbying efforts, to encourage Congress to pass bills that encourage price fixing, and create a culture that has resulted in criminal negligence for false advertising. When the industry gets caught they pay hundreds of millions in fines (but what’s $100 million when your making $100 billion).
The $700 million that Big Pharma pays for lobbying pales in comparison to the $4 billion they spend on direct to consumer marketing. Big Pharma has sold the idea to the public, that if you are feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment, you could be suffering from a disease. For any symptom of distress you should call your doctor who can prescribe pills that can relieve your pain. This media barrage has resulted in one in every four Americans being diagnosed with a “mental illness”.
I agree that all psychiatrists should lobby on behalf of our patients, but lets lobby for the elimination of direct-to-consumer marketing. Pharmaceutical companies with enormous psychiatric support are creating a nation of mentally ill.