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Direct to consumer advertising is medicalising normal human experienceFor

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 13 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:908

Direct to consumer advertising is medicalising normal human experience

In direct to consumer advertising, drug companies target advertisements for prescription drugs directly at the public. Barbara Mintzes argues that this type of advertising risks medicalising normal human conditions, with the drug companies raking in increasingly healthy profits. Silvia N Bonaccorso and Jeffrey L Sturchio argue that, through advertising, drug companies can enable patients to make better informed choices about their health and treatment


  1. Barbara Mintzes (, graduate researcher
  1. Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, University of British Columbia, 429-2194 Health Services Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3

    In October 2001, GlaxoSmithKline ran an advertisement in the New York Times Magazine for paroxetine (known as Paxil in the United States). A woman is walking on a crowded street, her face strained, in a crowd otherwise blurred. The headline reads, “Millions suffer from chronic anxiety. Millions could be helped by Paxil.”

    No doubt many New Yorkers felt anxious in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, experiencing symptoms highlighted in the advertisement, such as worry, anxiety, or irritability. At what point does an understandable response to distressing life events become an indication for drug treatment—and a market opportunity?

    Kawachi and Conrad describe medicalisation as a “process by which non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually in terms of illnesses and disorders,” decontextualizing human problems and turning attention from the social environment to the individual.1 They point out the negative consequences, chiefly the extension of the sick role and diversion from other solutions.

    Does direct to consumer advertising of prescription …

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