Selling Sickness 2013

“even the score” steps over the line

I (L.T.) wrote here in April about the behind-the-scenes tactics of Sprout Pharmaceuticals in pre-approval maneuvering on behalf of its drug for women’s low sexual desire, flibanserin. Well, wouldn’t you k now that just as the ink was drying, an even more outrageous tactic emerged, a public relations campaign called “Even the Score.” Designed by “the world’s largest public relations firm, ” Edelman PR, this campaign uses scientific misinformation and political manipulation to mobilize the public to take action.

Insisting that there are 26 drugs approved for the sexual problems of men and none for women, and continuing to insist even in the face of the debunking of these numbers in the Wall Street Journal, Sprout/Edelman call for women to sign a petition that states “We believe that women have the right to make their own informed choices concerning their sexual health; that gender equality should be the standard in access to sexual dysfunction treatments; and that the approval of safe & effective treatments for low desire should be a priority for the FDA.” Really? Where does regulation fit in this proposal? Should prescription drugs all become over-the-counter products and the public just buy whatever their “informed choices” (and, we might wonder, informed by what information?) might be? Are women really best served by going backwards to the days of “caveat emptor“?

And what does it mean to demand that “gender equality” should be “the standard in access to sexual dysfunction treatments” as opposed to the FDA’s hard-won standards of evidence-based safety and efficacy? The hijacking of feminist consumer language like “choice,” and political language like “gender equality” signals that we are in the land of PR manipulation.

Whatever happens with Sprout and flibanserin, there are more drugs in the pipeline  all the time in this great chase after the pink Viagra. This month’s issue of The Scientist has a particularly sound overview of all the brain drugs headed for the FDA that will claim to increase women’s sexual desires – bremelanotide, Lorexys, Lybrido, Lybridos, etc. One wonders which PR firms and which new tactics will be dreamed up to push one of them over the finish line. As one of the pro-drug doctors quoted in The Scientist says, “Just one approval would make all the difference. Viagra opened the door for men. We need the same thing for women.” No matter how much science they need to step on.


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