“Disease mongering” is a term coined by some drug-marketing critics to describe what they view as an effort by pharmaceutical companies to enlarge the market for a drug by convincing people that they are suffering from something that can be medically treated and encouraging them to ask their doctor to prescribe the drug in order to enlarge the market for drug treatment and promote a particular product.
An example of such a tactic is advertising for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant feelings in the legs with an associated uncontrollable urge to move when resting because of the unpleasant sensation to the legs.
Consumer Reports concluded that an advertisement for the drug Requip could leave anyone who ever suffered fidgetiness when trying to go to sleep to wonder whether they have RLS and should seek treatment. Direct-to-consumer advertising has skyrocketed since the FDA changed its policy in 1997 to allow advertising of prescription drugs on television; from $985 million in 1996 to $4.2 billion in 2005 according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 attempts to regulate this phenomenon by requiring that all advertisements have “clear, conspicuous and neutral” statements about the risks and benefits of the drug and the FDA is able to delay television ads if it desires to review the same and ascertain whether any changes are needed. The law, however, as it stands, may be challenged as a violation of free speech.
Mirapex is a drug first approved by the FDA in 1997 for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Recently, researchers concluded that Mirapex, along with Requip, could similarly treat Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
Generally, those suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome have problems sleeping and feel “pins and needles” in their legs and sensations including “lightning legs.” However, it has been discovered that Mirapex has caused detrimental side effects to Parkinson’s patients, including pathological gambling, along with compulsive eating, shopping and sexuality.
Accordingly, product liability lawsuits have been commenced against Boehringer, Pfizer, Pharmacia and Upjohn, the companies responsible for developing, manufacturing and marketing Mirapex.
It is being alleged that the aforementioned companies knew that this drug caused compulsive behavior including gambling as early as 2004 but withheld this information from the FDA, doctors and the public and incorrectly denied any link between the two. Lawsuits are also pending surrounding the drug Requip for causing similarly compulsive behavior. Plaintiffs in these cases have been permitted to seek punitive damages.
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