Big Pharma Cashes in on DSM-5

More Disorders than Ever Before

Written by Brittany Stepniak
Posted May 17, 2013

The new edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has now been released, and there are some very surprising and interesting changes that have many people asking a lot of questions. 

This publication has long been considered the bible of the mental health community. This is the first major update and revision in almost 20 years. Weighing in at almost 1,000 pages, there is certainly a lot to go through – even a number of additional problems, conditions, and situations that are now being classified as types of mental illness. 

Consider some of the recent changes. A child that has extreme and frequent tantrums is now suffering from 'disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.' They have actually created a new diagnosis for a toddler being a normal toddler!

If you experience extreme sadness, some weight loss, and trouble sleeping after the loss of a loved one, you might now be considered to be suffering from major depression. Of course, the drug companies will love this, since now many more people will be needing antidepressants and other drugs.

Big Pharma Ready To Cash In

Perhaps we should not really be surprised. Mental illness diagnoses in the United States have been on the rise for a number of years now. It is becoming a question of whether these new 'definitions' of exactly what constitutes mental illness are meant to include nearly everyone. It is also not hard to see the reasoning behind all of these new classifications and changes.

The big pharmaceutical companies may be behind this. There is something amiss when we see advertisements on television nearly every night about how to treat certain conditions.

These advertisements are placed by the big drug companies in an effort to sell more of their wares, even ifthe 'patients' do not really suffer from any type of illness.

Disease mongering is big business. Consider the fact that drugs used to treat depression can cost as much as $800 a month, and ADHD drugs can run about the same per 100 pills (Adderall XR), as AlterNet reports.

The pharmaceutical industry is ultimately not really interested in making sick people well; they simply want to sell more pills, injections, and 'treatments.' They are businesses, and drug sales are certainly big business. They make billions in profits every year and have a vested interest in ensuring that these profits continue.

One major problem that drug companies have is that markets can end up going away. The ADHD 'market,' for lack of a better word, is a good illustration. There are currently about 4.5 million children who are classified as having ADHD.

Setting aside concerns for the moment about allegations of false diagnoses and over-prescribing of treatment drugs, this market has reached its peak. It is what business analysts would call 'mature.' Sales will likely continue at around the same levels for a few years, but then begin to gradually decline.

One solution for these drug companies has become apparent with the publication of the new DSM-5. Simply expand the markets by increased disease classification.

Even as far back as 2008, there is evidence that the pharmaceutical industry was eyeing adults as a new source of potential profits for their ADHD drugs. Leaked press releases from industry market research firms actually placed estimates on the size of this adult ADHD market as nearly twice the size the child market. 

So they create a “test” to screen for so-called adult ADHD and then aggressively market this to the public. This is an ingenious experiment actually; since there are no real tests, no blood work, or really anything physical to confirm the presence (or even the existence) of ADHD, just take the test and get yourself worked into a frenzy. Then go out and buy some expensive medicine.

Some Medical Community Backlash

Despite all of the disease mongering by the big drug companies likely behind the new classifications in the DSM-5, we are beginning to see some reaction against this trend of labeling everyone as a patient, sick or not. The British Psychology Society has actually gone on the record to state that many so-called mental illness diagnostic procedures today do not have much value and are not very reliable.

The National Institutes of Mental Health (a government agency) has also been critical of this new release. Dr. Thomas Insel, the agency director, recently commented in a blog post that this new guide book is simply a collection of labels and definitions that is no better than a dictionary. Many scientists echo these sentiments and also feel that diagnosis of diseases should be based more on biological information rather than upon things like mental screening tests.

Dr. Allen Frances is a retired Duke University professor who led the task force that worked on the previous DSM manual. He has recently written a book entitled Saving Normal about how the mental health industry has devolved.

According to Dr. Frances, these new diagnoses listed in the handbook have the strong possibility of turning many otherwise normal people and habits into mental disorders. Some of these habits include a bit of normal anxiety, eccentricities, forgetfulness, and bad eating habits. 

What Next? 

For those of us who like to see opportunity in unfortunate situations, watching the big pharmaceutical companies could be profitable. It would help to focus on those companies that are seeking to expand particular markets, such as the adult ADHD example listed above.

Obviously, this requires care and solid judgment, since many companies in this industry have a wide portfolio of drugs and depend so much upon the patent process.

Otherwise, those of you who are enraged about the situation need to stand up and take action. Probably not much action would result from writing your Congressmen, Senators, or other lawmakers since they all receive large campaign contributions from the drug industry.

But perhaps some focus on blog and online posting, or boycotting of particular drugs and companies, might begin to raise more awareness and public demand for regulation or other effective action.

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