Wednesday, April 27, 2005

How Do Doctors Diagnose Depression?

From today's Washington Post:
Actors pretending to be patients with symptoms of stress and fatigue were five times as likely to walk out of doctors' offices with a prescription when they mentioned seeing an ad for the heavily promoted antidepressant Paxil, according an unusual study being published today.

The study employed an elaborate ruse—sending actors with fake symptoms into 152 doctors' offices to see whether they would get prescriptions. Most who did not report symptoms of depression were not given medications, but when they asked for Paxil, 55 percent were given prescriptions, and 50 percent received diagnoses of depression.

The study adds fuel to the growing controversy over the estimated $4 billion a year the drug industry spends on such advertising. Many public health advocates have long complained about ads showing happy people whose lives were changed by a drug, and now voices in Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and even the pharmaceutical industry are asking whether things have gone too far.

The culprit is not advertising, but it will apparently be made the scapegoat. Many types of drugs are advertised, but the study was confined to an antidepressant. The culprit is the culture of medicalization that makes anything negative a mental-health problem. It affects doctor and patient alike. It's the age we live in.


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