Long before the Internet and direct to consumer advertising, the medical profession tried to reassure people about their health concerns. Sure, fatigue and headaches could be a symptom of a brain tumor; sure, a cough could be a symptom of lung cancer—but most doctors tried to assuage, not sow, fear. Remember “take two aspirins and call me in the morning”?
Flash forward to today’s online “symptom checkers,” quizzes to see if you have a certain disease and exhortations to see your doctor even though you feel fine. Once Pharma discovered that health fears and even hypochondria sell drugs, there seems to be no end to the new diseases, symptoms and risks people need to worry about.
Selling symptoms to suggestible people has been a gold mine for Big Pharma since it started advertising directly to the consumer almost in the late 1990s. Thanks to such marketing which actually “sells” diseases to build demand, millions of people who were once fine now have season allergies, GERD and assorted attention, pain and spectrum disorders.
That’s not to discount genuine suffering. But for many people, the embrace of prescription drugs is best expressed in the T shirt that says “I take aspirin for the headache caused by the Zyrtec I take for the hayfever I got from Relenza for the uneasy stomach from the Ritalin I take for the short attention span caused by the Scopoderm I take for the motion sickness I got from the Lomotil I take for the diarrhea caused by the Xenical for the uncontrolled weight gain from the Paxil I take for the anxiety from Zocor I take for my high cholesterol because exercise, a good diet and regular chiropractic care are just too much trouble.” (Of course the shirt cannot be worn by a petite person.)
Here are some of the ways Pharma uses fear to keep the public buying drugs.
1. Fear of Aging and Losing Sex Appeal