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.


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