Drugs For Life; Subcultural Identity


BY: BBC Video Documentary, Think Aloud.

Here’s a short video interview with anthropologist Joseph Dummit, author of the book “Drugs For Life” in which he tackles  the pervasiveness of America’s pharmaceutical market in its economy and society. Dummit explores in detail, America’s increasing medicalization and the emergence of the ‘expert patient’ who shifts the dynamic of the patient-doctor relationship because this ‘expert patient’ is now equipped with ‘knowledge’ about his own health, what kind of lifestyle is healthy and to some extent the ‘medical know-how’ of how to treat certain conditions ‘off-the-counter’.

Dummit argues that Pharmaceutical companies have come to occupy a predominant role in American society, changing the discourse about what is “healthy” and what isn’t through their huge marketing campaigns and their capitalistic drive. What I find most interesting in his argument is the fact that he shows how these direct-to-consumer advertising mechanisms not only affect patients, but also influence doctors prescriptions of medications to people as well! For instance, a study showed that, patients who walk into the doctors office having already ‘self-diagnosed’ themselves as having ‘depression; bipolar, any other illness category you can think of’, as a result of watching several ads on television that describe these symptoms, tend to leave the doctors office with more drugs prescribed to them than if they had walked in and been completely ignorant about the potential of their condition. this general statistic shows that doctors either knowingly or unknowingly buy into aspects of a patient’s ‘self-diagnosis’ even though this diagnoses must have been inspired by really good marketing from pharmaceutical companies. This is where the notion of ‘the expert patient’ comes in. Patients are now deeming themselves experts int heir own healthcare only coming to the doctor for validation or otherwise. “Isn’t this a dangerous trajectory we are on?”, one should rightfully ask. In fact, the whole idea of Direct-To-Consumer Advertising (DTC) is all the more contentious because it is only legal in only two countries in the entire world (The US and New Zealand).

He also gives interesting discourse about clinical trials and the ethics surrounding them, (for instance the claim by pharmaceuticals on the over-medicalization of American bodies and hence their need to export clinical trials abroad, often to developing countries), the role of the FDA both in America and abroad, and the global market for pharmaceutical drugs. His presentation of clinical trials in global context is indeed very provocative. He very explicitly bashes pharmaceutical companies for avoiding to supply drugs for neglected tropical illnesses that plague people in countries simply because those countries cannot afford to pay for the treatments and are not as profitable for them as investing in drugs in more developed countries that will bring them profits …even if those ‘more profitable drugs’ are Viagra or Prozac. and don’t get me wrong, I am not undermining the utility of these in the betterment of one’s life. It is just purely interesting the emphasis and value or weight we have put to defining what is healthy and what is not…what demands our attention and care and what is not.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone interested in health policy making, public health, pharmacy and healthcare in general.


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