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Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients

Canadian Journal of Communication/CCSP Press
Publication Date
  • Design
  • Medicine
  • Pharmacology


Review_ Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients. By Ray Moynihan & Alan Cassels. Vancouver/Toronto: Greystone Books. 2005. 272 pp. ISBN 1553651316. Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels’s Selling Sickness is a welcome and accessible exposé of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies and their extensive influence in selling sickness to the “healthy well.” The authors argue that “the pharmaceutical industry is working behind the scenes to help define and design the latest disorders and dysfunctions in order to create and expand markets for their newest medicines” (p. vii). They contend that this process turns “too much ordinary life into medical illness, in order to expand markets for medications” (p. xix). The authors reveal how so-called sick- nesses, ranging from high cholesterol to female sexual dysfunction, are invented and mar- keted, in order to sell their corresponding medicinal cures. In aggregate, the ten chapters explore how the pharmaceutical complex makes use of advertisers, celebrity endorsers, patient groups, medical professionals and associations, and even federal regulators, to ensure that their drugs get sold. The strengths of this vol- ume are its journalistic style, accessibility, and breadth. According to the authors of this study, medical conditions have been routinely broad- ened so as to increase the number of possible candidates for prescription medications. For instance, the number of depressed persons has been highly inflated with revised defini- tions of depression; ADD has been increasingly diagnosed in adults; and personality qual- ities like shyness are now explained as social anxiety disorders. Other illnesses such as high cholesterol are not really illnesses in and of themselves. Rather, as the authors explain, they may be indicators or risk factors for future illnesses, but only when com- bined with other indicators. Defining high cholesterol as an illness promotes the fear that high cholesterol is syn

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