Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Equal-Opportunity Disorder

The media are abuzz with the findings of a recent study indicating that men are almost as likely (5.5 percent of men) to be compulsive shoppers as women (6 percent of whom engage in the behavior).

The complete findings of the study appear in the current issue of a major national publication. No, not Cosmopolitan or GQ, as you might expect, but the American Journal of Psychiatry. If you're wondering why excessive spending is of interest to medical professionals, it's because, in yet another instance of the medicalizing of life (i.e., reducing all manner of life's problems to illness), the American Psychiatric Association claims that those who frequently experience irresistible and irrational urges to buy things suffer from a condition known as "compulsive buying (or shopping) disorder." According to one account of the study's findings, "Sufferers often rack up thousands of dollars in debt and lie to their loved ones about their purchases. The consequences can be bankruptcy, divorce, embezzlement and even suicide attempts." Researchers conclude that one in 20 adults in the U.S. "suffer" from the "condition."

What is not being as widely broadcast is the fact that this study was funded by an educational grant from Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc. (see small print at the end of the above linked article), whose speaker's bureau includes both the senior author (Lorrin Koran) and co-author (Elias Aboujaoude) of the compulsive shopping study. What makes this connection so interesting is the fact that three years ago another study, also funded by a grant from Forest Labs, reported that a commonly prescribed antidepressant called citalopram (which Forest Labs just happens to manufacture) might be useful in alleviating compulsive shopping disorder. It comes as no surprise that Lorrin Koran was this study's lead researcher as well.

Of course, the fact that those researching a drug's effectiveness are in the employ of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it does not in itself discredit the research. However, it should at least raise suspicion about just how objective the research is. I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately about the marketing strategies of pharmaceutical companies and it's distressing, to say the least. In their book Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients, Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels write:
Psychiatry's intimate relationship with the pharmaceutical industry has become notorious. When the former New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Marcia Angell published her famous editorial "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?," it was this group of specialists that she chose to illustrate her point. She wrote that when journal staff were searching for an experienced and independent psychiatrist to write a review article about antidepressants, they had a great difficulty finding one, because only "very few" in the entire United States were free of financial ties to the drug makers (25-26).
Now that it has been "established" that compulsive spending is not just a women's issue, as previously thought, the market for drugs promising to treat the condition has been expanded, much to the pharmaceutical companies' glee, not to mention the relief of those now liberated from any moral evaluation of their insatiable appetites in the name of medical science.

1 comment:

Ted said...

It is possible that men may be as compulsive shoppers as women, but they don't take all day doing it. They get in, get their merchandise and get out.