Governments Delivering Customers to Big Pharma

Maria Bradshaw
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Much has been written about the unethical marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies and the role of psychiatrists and government regulators in marketing psychiatric drugs. Court judgments, research studies and whistleblower accounts have left us in no doubt that dishonesty, fraud, corruption and callous disregard for human suffering underpin the promotion and distribution of these drugs.

In this, however the pharmaceutical industry is not unique. Many potentially harmful products are promoted unethically, improperly regulated and pushed by those in related industries who receive kickbacks for doing so. Gambling, for example causes a range of harms including child abuse, loss of relationships and suicide but is marketed as fun and entertaining  (with any harm arising from individual pathology – gambling addiction, poor impulse control – rather than the product), promoted by the tourism industry who receive payment for delivering up customers and is inadequately regulated by government.

What distinguishes the pharmaceutical industry is the fact that, in an outstanding and unique gift to its marketers, governments have passed legislation allowing detention of potential customers and forced administration of its product to consumers who do not wish to purchase it.

Tourists who arrive in New Zealand have a range of options to satisfy their needs for entertainment: bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, snorkeling, sightseeing, shopping, nightclubbing, theatre, and of course gambling at our casinos. The providers of these entertainments compete with each other on their ability to satisfy their customers’ needs on price and on safety. The quality of their product and their customer care determine the market share and profits they receive.

Now imagine if tourists on arrival in New Zealand could be detained by tour guides, forcibly taken to the casino and made to sit in front of a pokie machine or roulette wheel for days or weeks until all their money was gone, their travel companions had left in disgust and their children, unsupervised at the airport, were taken into care. What a windfall for the gambling industry!

Imagine if the government passed legislation allowing for the detention of car buyers and the issuing of court orders that mandated them purchasing and driving a small range of government-approved vehicles because the government decided these vehicles were safe and it was in the best interests of citizens who have been involved in non-fatal crashes (and are therefore a risk to themselves and others) to drive them.

What a furore would ensure from competitors and from the public, from the business community and free market champions.

Isn’t this exactly the situation that exists for pharmaceutical companies? Government has passed legislation that allows those who do not want to purchase their drugs to be detained and injected with their products against their will, while the alternatives to pharmaceuticals are never forcibly administered.  No one is forced to attend art therapy, counseling or acupuncture. Children are not forced to undergo play therapy in order to access education despite clinical studies showing these interventions to be more effective than antidepressants or stimulants.

Marketers know that there are certain segments of the population who will never purchase their products. They know that publicity about harm arising from use of their product will seriously affect demand. They leave alone those segments of the market to whom they offer no interest and withdraw defective products or invest in improving their safety profile. They operate in environments where consumers exert control over the market penetration and profitability of their product and where companies who ignore customer perspectives and needs do not survive.

Any marketing executive would kill for legislation mandating use of their product by customers who resist their marketing efforts, legislation that removes consumer control and the impact of market forces. It not only provides a (literally!) captive market but endorsement of their product by the highest powers in the land, across the entire market.

Given governments and the public are so indoctrinated with the view that psychiatry is the cure for mental illness and that pharmacological treatment is safe and effective, I’m wondering if rather than trying to change their views and repeal compulsory treatment laws, we should propose compulsory gambling or vehicle purchasing to our local representatives and when they patiently explain to us that this is not possible in a free market economy, ask innocently why psychiatric drugs are different than other drugs and any other product.

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Maria Bradshaw
DelusionNZ: Maria Bradshaw lost her only child to SSRI induced suicide in 2008. Co-founder and CEO of CASPER (Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education & Research), Maria promotes a social model of suicide prevention focused on strengthening community cohesion, addressing the social drivers of suicide and providing communities with the knowledge and tools required to reclaim suicide prevention from mental health professionals. Maria has an MBA from Auckland University and particular interests in sociological and indigenous models of suicide prevention, prescription drug induced suicide, pharmacovigilance and alternatives to psychiatric interventions for emotional distress. Maria has researched and written a number of papers challenging the medical model of suicide prevention.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Good analogy, especially if you think that a lot of gambling addicts are prescribed antidepressants. There’s also evidence out there that antidepressants can cause gambling addiction, this would then be treated either by an increase of dosage or a change to another antidepressant type medication.

    Either way it’s a win-win situation for pharma… unlike casinos.

  2. I just love your articles, Maria. You make points that should be heard by a much bigger audience than MIA can offer.

    I’m wondering what the access to media situation is in New Zealand. You are about the same small population, more or less, as Denmark and Ireland, and I know that the movements in those two countries get the chance to address the public there. What is the situation for that in NZ?

  3. I just had a thought that I’d like to hear others’ feedback about. The reason always given for involuntary detention is protection of the person or others whom that person might harm. It’s difficult to argue that this should NEVER occur, no matter what, though different arguments exist as to how and why and where such a person might be held. (BTW, I am NOT a proponent of involuntary detention in a “hospital” whose job is not to help you but is more to keep you under control!) But the biggest problem I have with involuntary detention is that it de facto authorizes involuntary DRUGGING of those so detained.

    What if we changed the discussion? What if our argument became, “OK, we acknowledge that there may be times when a person needs to be protected by holding him/her against his/her will in some kind of facility, be it jail or a hospital or a halfway house or whatever. But that does NOT give anyone the right to force treatment on that person under any circumstances.” If we could decouple the need for detention (which can be argued separately in a different venue) from what should be the absolute right to refuse treatment in whatever form, we’ve taken away the argument that “well, there are those dangerous people who might hurt someone out there and have to be detained for everyone’s safety” and put the focus back on the enforcement of DRUGS as “treatment” as a separate and critical conversation.

    Involuntary detention should not be synonymous with involuntary drugging. Anyone think there is value in talking about them as separate issues?

    —- Steve

    • Steve writes (quite beautifully), “Involuntary detention should not be synonymous with involuntary drugging. Anyone think there is value in talking about them as separate issues?”

      Steve,

      YES, EXACTLY!

      I am in complete and TOTAL agreement with you, on that (and am, in fact, agreeing with every sentiment you’ve expressed in your entire comment)!

      What you’re saying here makes perfect sense to me.

      And, actually, (I’ll offer this next thought, as humbly as possible): What you are saying here is really what I’ve been attempting to get at, in all my comments, ever since I first began commenting on this website. (That was roughly a year and a half ago.) It’s really the crux of what’s been moving me to keep on contributing to discussions on this site.

      (Oh, and lately, too, I’m increasingly charged and feeling strongly, that any and all discussion of advance directives is very important; a full court press and push to construct and defend ‘personal advance directives’ may be key to forwarding the psych-survivor human rights movement, IMHO.)

      Steve, thank you for being so much more clear and concise than I could ever be, on this matter, which you’re raising!

      What a great comment and query you’ve offered — so simply put.

      Yes, exactly as you indicate: the fleshing out, of these two issues should become two different discussions. (That is to say, all talk of some potential legitimacy, at times, of society’s calls for a momentary physical containment, should be viewed in very stark contrast to explorations of society’s (really quite deeply errant) acceptance of compulsory psychiatric ‘treatment’; those two issues should most certainly be raised separately.

      Unfortunately, I tend to go on an on, with my words in my comments.

      Must. Stop. Writing. Now.

      Thank you, again, Steve, for your thoughtful contributions to these discussions. They are always well said…

      Respectfully,

      Jonah

  4. yep I do Steve but whenever I’ve tried to raise the shade of grey’s, or the idea of limited detention with no forced treatment or only for immediate physical life saving measures (malnutrition/dehydration/sleep deprivation) I get told I’m supporting forced drugging or zero response so I gave up

  5. I agree with Maria.

    If we take your standard of offering support and never detaining as a preventative measure we might try harder with people who are distressed.

    Once people have been violent then there is a reason to wonder if restraint is necessary, but even then trying hard to prevent it by offering understanding before hand is best. That is the same for everyone, diagnosis or not, mental illness or not, politician… Hey Mr President, stop those drone attacks and talk things over.

  6. Maria,
    Your latest blog leaves me in tears. I can so empathize with what you’ve so tragically experienced, the suicide of ” your deeply loved child hanging by a noose” . We both lost our beautiful sons, same way. Whether it was from an illicit mind- altering drug (in my son’s case it was cannabis) which is affecting more young susceptible brains or a prescribed psychotropic drug, as with your son- something catastrophically altered their brains.

    My heart is with you, Maria. To read what you then experienced a few weeks later in the throes of despair and grief, which every loving parent who experiences this horrific nightmare can only begin to fathom, it is gut-wrenching. I remain lost how society can treat victims, like you, who had just lost your precious boy, so callously. How could you be handcuffed by the police, then dragged and involuntarily committed to a psych hospital? Human suffering seems so acutely misunderstood by society, especially the way ” help” is given.

    Please know you have my deepest admiration for the strength you’ve shown in moving through your sorrow. Your writing pieces are so eloquently written. The CASPER organization you spearheaded to wake society up is such a tribute to your beloved son ‘s memory.

    Bless you Maria, and just know the love we have for our chilfdren, in the legacy of their significant, but all too brief lives, will sustain us. What we have witnessed and lost now we share with society to bring awareness, and ideally change.

  7. Maria,
    I thought of you and your precious Toran tonight at the The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting tonight which is the annual event where persons around the globe light candles for one hour to honor children who have died. The candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time, starting in New Zealand. It reminds each of us about our love for our children, gone far too soon. As candles burn down in each time zone, they are then lit in the next. This creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as the observance continues around the world. Just hoping you are familiar with this organization and if so, that it brings you the love and support from others who have lost a child.
    And thank you for sharing your observations of the environmental link from cannabis to suicide. It amazes me to read the critical blogging from the pro cannabis supporters. We know the factors that took our beloved son’s from us, and as a result of the pain we suffer just want to spare the next son or daughter. This young generation has no awareness how drugs ( illicit or prescription) impact their developing brains.