A woman in the grip of pre-menstrual dysphoric disease slams grocery carts outside a supermarket in frustration. A concerned young Japanese woman asks her husband if he has ever been happy. Peppy actors in lab coats reassure the audience that depression is like "a cold of the soul."
These are scenes from some of the many pharmaceutical ads that pepper BRANDING ILLNESS, an eye-opening documentary about how big drug companies create diseases and then supply the medications that can cure them.
It's a reversal of the traditional approach—trying to discover a drug that cures an illness—and one that relies far more heavily on marketing than on research.
The film offers case after startling case of how big pharma creates the conversation around new diseases and then offers up the solutions. Take pre-menstrual dysphoric disease. It appeared right about the time the patent on Prozac was about to expire, representing a significant loss of income. Enter PMDD. Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly rebranded the drug, changed its colour, jacked up the price, and had a potentially profitable new medication to sell as a treatment for a disease few had ever heard of before.
Featuring at times acerbic commentary from experts including physicians, historians and medical anthropologists (among them maverick academic David Healy), BRANDING ILLNESS offers unprecedented insight into the ways illnesses and their potential cures are marketed. No claim seems too outrageous—whether it's convincing the Japanese they have widespread depression, urging millions of healthy adults they need medication to lower their cholesterol, or even proposing that all adults over 50 take a "poly-pill" to lower their risk of common diseases.
In one particularly striking segment, a member of the Dutch Institute for Rational Use of Medicine recounts how her group pretended to represent a pharmaceutical company and created a fake awareness campaign for a drug to treat excessive flatulence. Their brochures were welcomed in doctors' offices, their posters hung in medical centres, and television news reported on the "problem" and the treatment available.
The Internet is supposed to make medical information more accessible, but as the film points out, it's very hard to know who is behind the information users find. A seemingly innocuous awareness campaign could be part of an expensive PR effort. Antoine Vial of the French Health Regulatory Agency puts a campaign for ankylosing spondylitis under the microscope, and finds that what it doesn't say may be more revealing than what it does.
And if it's hard for consumers to get access to objective opinions, it's no easier for independent-minded academics. Medical anthropologist Kalman Applbaum says 80% of clinical trials and 97% of the most influential clinical trials are commercially funded.
Even science has become a tool to advance the sales of drugs.
"Recommended." —Video Librarian
"Well argued, with numerous examples, their presentation is nonetheless as enlightening as it is appalling." —Télérama
"All the great figures of anti-propaganda pass through this documentary." —Nouvel Obervateur
"The investigation puts the finger on an alarming reality. ...A high quality investigation with more than disturbing conclusions." —Humanité Dimanche
"An excellent investigation on the pharmaceutical industry that fabricates diseases using marketing with the complicity of the authorities and doctors. ...This film-in which the industry refused to participate-demonstrates the mechanisms of medicine under the hold of the market. ...An abrasive analysis that makes us see TV ads and pharmaceutical companies with a different eye." —L'…cho