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Rigged Depression Survey on the Web Steers Readers to Lilly's Cymbalta

Posted Mar 02 2010 12:00am

It seems to me that there's no obvious end-point to the dirty tricks that pharmaceutical companies will attempt to flog their products. I have previously raised the issues of under-the-table payments to physicians for presenting biased lectures (see: Medical Schools Share Some Blame in Scandals Involving Pharma Payments to Faculty ), ghostwritten articles in medical journals steering physicians to certain drugs (see: Details Emerge About Ghost-Written Medical Articles for Wyeth ), and even a phony medical journal created from scratch by a pharmaceutical company (see: Merck Creates Phony Peer-Reviewed Medical Journal to Dupe Physicians ). Perhaps the Lilly marketing personnel felt that they were falling behind their competitors in the chicanery department so they decided to publish a rigged health questionnaire on the web relating to depression (see: WebMD's Depression Test Has Only One (Sponsored) Answer: You're "At Risk" ). Below are more details:

Feeling depressed? Cheer yourself up by taking WebMD’s comical new depression test . It’s sponsored by Eli Lilly — maker of the antidepressant Cymbalta – so they must know what they’re talking about, right? In fact, no matter which of the 10 answers you choose on the test, the result comes out the same: You may be at risk for major depression. Sen. Charles Grassley wants the link between WebMD and Lilly investigated because he suspects people may rely on the test, thinking it is objective information when in fact it’s sponsored fluff. To be fair to WebMD and Lilly, the test is clearly marked as “funded by Lilly.” And there’s a Cymbalta ad sitting on the same page. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it is rigged. Even if you answer “no” to all of the 10 questions (which are all framed so that the “yes” answer indicates depressed behavior) you still get this response: Lower Risk: You may be at risk for major depression.....And it’s not difficult for a non-depressed person to click at least four answers that trigger the high-risk diagnosis.

For me, all of these dirty tricks point toward a conclusion that I suggested before: Big Pharma is now dominated by marketers and not scientists or physicians and the industry has drifted far from its ethical roots (see: Drug Company Emphasis on Marketing an Unfavorable Shift for Consumers ). Moreover, none of these revelations seem to have embarrassed the companies. As I stated in my previous note:

For me, this is merely additional evidence of the ideas that I have stated above -- [the pharmaceutical companies] believe that sophisticated marketing can trump a distaste for the industry and its products on the part of consumers. In short, the drug companies are concerned first and foremost with their bottom line and will invest whatever resources they deem necessary in marketing to enhance their profits.

For the most part, I don't have many heroes in Congress these days but Senator Grassley is surely one of them. However, he doesn't need to work too hard to turn over new revelations about the pharmaceutical industry on a periodic basis.

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