Pharmageddon: America’s bitter pill

The United States has a passion for pills, being the world's biggest users of psychotropic drugs, consuming 60 per cent of them. And pharmaceutical firms are keen to keep cashing in on the multibillion-dollar market, even if it costs people's health.

America is regarded as a country with a prodigious appetite for consumption. Today, a widespread fondness for pharmaceuticals has turned the US into a nation of pill-poppers.

With over $14 billion in annual sales, antipsychotics remain the top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the US.

Dr. Harriet Fraad believes Big Pharma has manufactured a climate of insanity by manipulating and even creating illness for capital gain.

“One of the things that drives Big Pharma is to find a diagnosis that is very vague, so that everybody can fall into that,” she told RT. “Everybody is sad sometimes. There are good reasons. The point is to market pharmaceuticals. And the advertising strategy is to have vague diagnosis and then find wiggle room so that they apply to everyone.”

The US is the only Western country that allows direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. For example, an ad for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder warns that untreated patients will likely end up divorced. Another commercial promises to make you happier, but side-effects may include dry mouth, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, nausea and sleepiness.”

Critics also say Big Pharma uses its financial muscle to ply doctors with gifts, cash kick-backs and research funding in exchange for endorsing or prescribing the latest and most lucrative drugs.

Harriet Fraad says there is a whole network of doctors hustling these drugs.

“If a patient comes in with a knee injury and says, ‘I’m so sad.’ Oh, are you depressed? Hey write a prescription! They’re given out like M&Ms.”

Last year, prescription drug abuse became the number one cause of accidental death, with more than 30,000 Americans overdosing.

For instance, Seroquel, medication for bi-polar disorder, generated $4.4 billion in sales last year.Listing all its side-effects requires 49 seconds of air-time.

The number of children consuming antipsychotic medication has doubled in the past decade. Millions of American adolescents are taking drugs like Adderall, doled out by doctors to treat hyperactivity.

Author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic, psychologist Bruce Levine, told RT that, “All these drugs are very similar to illicit or illegal drugs, except they’re more dangerous. Marijuana is a little safer. But kids have no choice.”

Pfizer, America’s most profitable multinational pharmaceutical company makes anti-depressants not only for people, but also for animals. In 2009, the pharmaceutical giant paid $2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations over illegally marketing one of its drugs. It was the largest healthcare fraud settlement and criminal fine in US history.That being said, the fine amounted to less than three weeks of Pfizer’s drug sales.

“The money is so huge that the fines are immaterial. They’re not thinking about the social effects of what they’re doing. They’re thinking about the profits they accrue,” says psychotherapist Harriet Fraad.

The pharmaceutical industry remains the most profitable business in the US. More success and financial gain for the companies will always remain possible as long as more Americans are encouraged to take drugs.