Targeting and portraying the pharmaceutical drug industry as evil, manipulative, scrupleless, profit-driven monsters is one of the easiest ways to get people (often with absolutely no knowledge in, biology, medicine, or pharmacology) to engage in the most bizarre conspiracy theories1 — while the same people would not hesitate for a second taking a drug they have been prescribed by a medical doctor.
I am completely against taking drugs of any sort, unless it’s absolutely necessary. As far as I can remember, last time I used any type of medical drug was around 15 years ago, when I was prescribed some sort of antihistamines to treat an allergic reaction — ironically enough caused by another drug, namely Aspirin.
However, this aversion against medicine is not of conspiratorial origin, nor do I see the pharma industry as a great evil. The market is indeed profit driven, but rather than thinking that this is a drive without morals, I see it as an inevitable side-effect developing in businesses with extremely tough competition, enormous developing costs, and strict regulations.
Nevertheless, the strive for profit is by no means unproblematic, and one example of this is the industry surrounding psychoactive drugs and how it has impacted treating and (perhaps more importantly) defining mental illnesses.
Starting from an anecdotic and personal perspective, it seems to me as if giving mental diagnoses on any person who differs only slightly from the “norm” has become more and more common. This occurred to me a lot during the last years of my mother working with children daycare. Suddenly, a large number of children were getting diagnosed with God-knows-what Capital Letter Combination to explain their overly intense (or unusually calm) behavior. And along with these diagnoses, usually came prescriptions or at least advise to start medicating the children — often with the argument that such medication would help the children concentrate, learn, and function better in groups.
In other words, parents were encouraged to treat their 4-8-year-olds with psychoactive drugs that will significantly change fundamental biological processes in the brain — namely how signal molecules in the brain (neurotransmitters) are released and sensed. This in an organ (the brain) so complex that science is still not even close to understanding it.
Meanwhile, most countries in the world limit the availability of otherwise legal drugs (e.g. alcohol) to minors, with the argumentation that consumption by underaged may severely affect brain development.
In a very interesting article reviewing three different books on psychotherapy, phychoactive drugs and the emergence of mental illnesses is discussed in depth. Is it really so that people are constantly getting more depressed? Are mental problems really a growing problem? Or is it the definition of mental problems that is changing? And if so, does pressure from the pharmaceutical industry have anything to do with this development?
A very interesting read, which I can highly recommend to anyone interested in psychotherapy:
1. Other privileged targets are banks. And just as well, the same people turn to banks for keeping their savings and getting their bank loans.