Ida Madsen Hestman
Published date: February 24, 2017

Too much is rotten within the global pharmaceutical industry.

An increasing number of Norwegians suffer anxiety or depression. Many of these psychosomatic illnesses are borderlin normal and sickly reactions. Of course, Norway is not alone here. In the US for instance, psychic illnesses caused by stress, and insomnia, have shot up aggressively in the past 20 years. One thing is to worry about this fact, which happens many places around the West, more disconcerting is that medication seems to be the only way out in all these cases. These are approved drugs with side-effects the patients themselves know shockingly little about. Dangerous side-effects, according to filmmaker Anniken Hoel. She is not the first wanting to open our eyes to the pharmaceutical industry’s dirty system, as her Cause of Death: Unknown premieres at the CPH:DOX in Copenhagen in March.

 Some 11 years ago, Hoel lost her sister Renathe, but no one knew the reason why. The cause of death was simply classed as ‘unknown’. The only thing they knew, was that the sister was a patient of psychiatry prescribed antipsychotics, issued by her psychologist. Following some medical research, Hoel discovers that the dosage her sister was prescribed – a cocktail of antipsychotics including the popular medicine Zyprexia – was increased considerably in the period preceding her mysterious death.


And thus starts Hoel’s detective journey to get some sort of justice for her sister and others who pay the price for a crazy medical system. Not only is the pharmaceutical industry ruled by market forces and a profits race. In addition, drugs approval is led by a formula stating that if its efficiency outweigh the risks, i.e. the side-effects, it will be sanctioned. This is also the case even if the side-effects include sudden death. It does not take long before Hoel ends up in The US. It is here the big corporation that manufacture most of the drugs are. Lilly is one of these, and manufacture among others, the ‘big hit’ – Prozac. Due to the fact that the monopoly on a certain drug expires after a certain period, this drug is milked for what it is worth to achieve maximum profits, through marketing and advertising. As Prozac became common goods and cheaper, Lilly decided to invest in Zyprexa instead. A small problem for Lilly was the fact that Zyprexa is a drug for bipolar disorders, the same consumers who already used Prozac — which is supposed to alleviate milder depressions. Using somewhat misleading marketing, in their best shopping channel-guise Lilly was successful.

Zyprexa was even more profitable than its predecessor Viva Zyprexa. But what about this side-effect that can affect the heart beat and perhaps cause death? In Norway alone, some 2,500 people under 45 has died using drugs against mental illnesses.

The fight for truth. What is bizarre about Hoel’s findings in Case of Death: Unknown, is that the uncomfortable truths about the various approved drugs is withheld. Also from the psychologists who issue them in good faith, in Norway. One explanation of how this corrupt system is possible, is that all who do medical research do not perform independent tests on drugs, but have in some way or other contact with the industry. It would be natural for the Norwegian Drugs Agency (Det Norske Legemiddelverket) to carry out their own research in Norway, but they do not. They lean on the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which comes under the EU. All research is done exclusively by the manufacturers themselves. Some 87 percent of EMA is paid directly by the pharmaceutical industry. This means that the regulators are in fact paid by the industry they are supposed to control.

Additionally, some of the research into the effects of drugs is conducted over a very short period of time. In these cases, they are not sure of any side-effects following extended usage. Then there are the medical journals which are able to decide which research results to emphasise due to their great power and influence. But these are also trapped in the dictatorial propaganda wheels of the pharmaceutical industry, and have to lean exclusively on the positive findings which are the only ones available. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates drugs in the USA is not independently either. It is currently paid by the drugs industry, because tax money alone is not enough to pay this governmental player. What it so far boils down to, is that those with enough resources to buy the ‘truth’ about their drugs, have reserved all rights. All rights to the human.

Scary developments within pill use. The pharmaceutical industry trends as uncovered by Hole’s investigative document, ought to garner more attention from the Norwegian public than we currently see. While the pharmaceutical industry ‘owns’ both medical staff and patients, we still witness a discouraging development. The threshold for being diagnosed with a mental illness keeps being lowered, also in the cases with a mild mental complaint. The problem also lies within the power to define the criteria to each diagnosis, and the number of new ones – something which increasingly happens. Currently, the 75 percent who work on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV) have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Based on this, it is worrying to simultaneously watch the number of mentally ill grow by 45 percent over the last 20 years. We should care, because this manual corresponds with its European equivalent. We know that to receive a mental diagnosis equals a medical prescription. There is little room for therapy. But, how does it help extinguishing the fire at one end if someone is pouring petrol at the other end?

We live in a society already governed by a market which gives us a low self-esteem because of all that we are not, for then to tell us what to buy and consume in a bid to make ourselves feel better. Humans’ social standing in society cannot be considered isolated from their mental state. In a progressively ego-centric society, a focus on market forces and with an increasingly uncertain job market, what does this do to the individual? Would it not be possible to issue a prescription for things other than what seems the easiest at that precise moment? What if issuing prescriptions for looking after social relations, increasing welfare deals and greater financial predictability worked? If so, it is society that needs drugs not those in it.


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