How Big Pharma profits from your poor health


As any corporation, Big Pharma companies aim to make money – only, they make money from convincing you that you’re ill.

You can’t watch television or open a magazine without being targeted by Big Pharma.

“Depressed?” “Can’t focus?” “Do your legs tingle, twitch, or feel restless?” These ads seem to be seeking very specific people, the people who already have an unpleasant disorder or disease that needs treating, or those that may be experiencing symptoms but have until now not realized it could be a pathology.

Big Pharma companies like Pfizer, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and more exist—as all corporations do—to make money. But one thing that separates them from other corporations is how they profit.

In truth, they profit from your illness and some would argue their multi-billion dollar annual profits of recent years have been possible only through the actual creation and perpetuation of disease.

Big Pharma: Disease-Mongering

In the 1992 book Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick, writer Lynn Payer exposed the system of Big Pharma business and how such companies exploit our health for profits.

She coined the term “disease mongering” as “trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill.” While Payer named the act of selling disease, it had been going on for decades.

When you go out on a limb and suggest things like restless leg syndrome (RLS) or social anxiety disorder (SAD) were created by these corporations to turn a profit, you risk being villanized by the people who have embraced these conditions as their own.

One isn’t suggesting the symptoms of these disorders are imaginary, but that what is now considered a “medical condition” would have once been thought of as a trivial, possibly annoying, and likely temporary occurrence.

Got symptoms? There’s a pill for that!

“There’s a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they’re sick,” says Ray Moynihan, Iona Heath and David Henry in the British Medical Journal. “Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers.”

Dr. Andrew Weil, holistic health care leader and pioneer of integrative medicine says, “A central disease-mongering tactic is to attach polysyllabic, clinical-sounding names to what used to be seen as trivial or transient conditions.”

In writing for the Huffington Post, Weil gives several examples of how Big Pharma has turned otherwise innate symptoms into serious money makers.

What we once knew as shyness is now social anxiety disorder, fidgety legs is now characterized as restless leg syndrome, and occasional heartburn is gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Just as a car salesman only makes money when he sells cars, Big Pharma only makes money when they sell drugs. They are our nation’s biggest drug dealers and they get away with it because they operate within the health care system.

Big Pharma corporations take symptoms and craft conditions around them, suggesting something common could be the sign of a serious disease. They use misleading research to overstate the benefits and downplay the risks of their health care solutions. They spend millions on advertising, crafting scenes where something like RLS could leave you feeling fatigued, isolated, and utterly hopeless (cue sad music, gray undertones, and a depressed woman looking out the window at a rainy day), but their prescription drug solution can save the day!

Big Pharma: A deadly industry

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 100 people die from prescription drug overdoses every single day in the United States.

In addition, 1.5 million Americans are hurt or killed every year by prescription drug errors. This doesn’t even begin to touch the known side effects of these Big Pharma health “solutions”.

Such side effects are often far worse than the initial symptoms the drug is designed to treat. For some, one prescription drug can provide symptom relief, but another has to be taken to manage the side effects (a double-whammy for Big Pharma profits).

It would be nice to think that the pharmaceutical companies are blanketing the airwaves on some noble quest to have everyone feeling good and healthy. But if that were the case, we would likely see them also giving their “healing” medications to countries in need, where people can’t necessarily afford the brand-name prices.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

In addition to stopping developing countries from creating more affordable generic versions of their drugs, large pharmaceutical companies have actually stopped making life-saving medications that simply didn’t offer the same financial rewards as say Viagra or Concerta.

One such drug, eflornithine, was developed as a cancer drug but found to be effective against African sleeping sickness—a disease that kills thousands annually in sub-Saharan Africa. Its maker, Hoechst Marion Roussell, stopped production in 1999 when they couldn’t make “enough” money off of it despite it being the only treatment effective in combating resistant forms of the disease.

Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline report earnings year-after-year in the tens-of-billions of dollars. While many industries are flailing in this economy, Big Pharma continues to report increased earnings. And they do this all by creating a “sick” population in need of long-term treatment, by selling not only their medications, but by selling disease to the American public.


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