Saturday, January 14, 2012

TV notes – Cymbalta hurts

8thcircleWhen my doctor prescribed Cymbalta for my diabetic neuropathy, I shot him a confused look. I thought he was trying to pull one over one me. But he assured me that Cymbalta was first designed for just my problem: pain in the extremities due to diabetes, and that only later, after it was discovered that patients reported feeling better emotionally did they discover it benefits for those suffering from depression. Thus it had become a drug prescribed for millions of people for the latter use.

So I gave in, trusting that the information was accurate, and I wish I hadn't. While the drug has done a good deal to help my pain, it may do more harm than good.

In my opinion, every prescription of an anti-depressant is a death sentence. It may not literally kill the patient, but eventually many wish they could die. The doctor has doomed the patient with lifelong dependency on the "medicine," even telling the patient most often, "You will take this or some other drug for the rest of your life."

Doctors and pharmaceutical commercials are almost never honest about the side effects of such drugs, particularly what takes place when one stops taking them, which happens for a variety of reasons. If you think a depressed person is difficult to get along with before taking Cymbalta, try dealing with him a couple days after he has quit using it.  And long term effects of taking such drugs have not been studied enough.

A couple years ago, Eli Lilly, the makers of Cymbalta started its "depression hurts" advertising campaign. Not so clearly, it connected the emotional difficulty of depression with physical pain, which is not always accurate. You'll note that these ads are often much longer than other commercials on television. The ads essentially beat the viewer on the head with its message and droning music, telling those with depression, "You're in pain. Your pain is a problem for other people. Cymbalta will fix that." It told those without depression, "If you want your life to get better, make sure your friend/companion/loved one takes this."

Don’t forget that many doctors misunderstand the order of events in people’s lives. Some will prescribe an anti-depressant when a patient is in pain, assuming that the patient’s feelings and attitude might because of pain, not depression.

Now Eli Lilly, instead of being ashamed of such crass manipulation and deception, is advertising this product for anyone with chronic pain. This action is far over the line. Big Pharma has done it's best to make sure all of us believe we have have a problem that can be solved via drugs. Most people use the phrase "my meds" as easily and often as they talk about what they eat for dinner or what they watch on television (the latter a seriously important drug or drug supplement). 

Though Lilly was cited by the FDA for misleading ads in 2010, the company has taken its message beyond those with depression or chronic pain, but continued to tell people that Cymbalta is for pain. Any pain.

Feel bad? Forget Tylenol or Advil, or meditation or taking a nap or anything else that might have worked before. Take Cymbalta. But realize you might killing yourself in the process. Even the fine print is not clear about this.

If corporations really are people, Eli Lilly (and the rest of them) is among those worthy of a special place in Hell. In Dante's Inferno, the Eighth Circle was reserved for those guilty of “theft, fraudulent rhetoric and falsification” (among other sins). Suicides were sent to the Seventh Circle with the violent. Clearly Dante felt that violence to language was even more heinous than violence to others, including the self. Seems an apt place for Big Pharma. The only thing I would add is that the suicides should be able to throw rocks at the executive and drug reps burning below them.

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