Drugs firms turning Britain into 'pill for every ill' society

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Britain is being turned into "pill for every ill" society by the multibillion-pound drugs industry, which encourages patients to take medication for "unhappiness", according to a committee of MPs.

Britain is being turned into "pill for every ill" society by the multibillion-pound drugs industry, which encourages patients to take medication for "unhappiness", according to a committee of MPs.

The drugs industry was heavily criticised for promoting the wider use of medication to increase its profits in a report by the influential Commons Select Committee on Health. The MPs called for tighter controls on the promotion of new drugs until more was known about their side-effects. Family doctors were also blamed by the MPs for prescribing anti-depressants "indiscriminately on a grand scale".

At the end of an extensive review of Britain's booming drugs industry, the committee said "a major and recurring issue" it confronted was the increased use of medicines to treat every problem in society, which the MPs called "a pill for every ill".

They said it was easy to believe everybody in Britain would be taking a pill every day before long with those over 55 being prescribed statins to stop heart attacks, and anti-depressants being over-prescribed. "Unhappiness is part of the spectrum of human experience, not a medical condition," said the MPs. "There is a strong and growing tendency to believe that life's problems are best dealt with as medical conditions.

"People hope for health solutions and come to rely on the inspiration of 'get well' messages from commercial and professional sources rather than focus on sometimes grim realities." The committee, chaired by the Labour MP David Hinchliffe, a former social worker, said the drugs industry had not created the trend, but it had encouraged it with its £1.65bn marketing and promotion budget, compared to only £4.5m spent by the Department of Health.

"There is reason to fear that the industry has positively nurtured anxieties about ill-health," said the committee. It is alleged that the industry was driven by pressure from its investors and the influence of its marketing force and advertising agencies, rather than its scientists.

The MPs warned the increased promotion of drugs could lead to "unsustainable demand on the NHS", a confused vision of how good health was maintained and a failure to ensure preventive public health measures were at the forefront of health policy.

"The aggressive promotion of medicines shortly after launch, the sheer volume of information that is received by prescribers and the 'promotional hospitality masquerading as education' all contribute to the inappropriate prescription of medicines," said the MPs.

Drugs industry chiefs told the committee that self-regulation should be maintained. But the MPs concluded: "Breaches of advertising regulations, cover-up of negative medicines information and provision of misleading information to prescribers suggest that self-regulation is not working."

They called for an end to the practice under which respected academics leant their names to reports on drugs by "ghost writers" without ever seeing the raw data on which the reports were based.

The MPs also criticised the influence the drugs industry had over GPs, patients, academics, the media and even the institutions meant to regulate it, including Parliament.

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