...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

dehype/health_care/ Restless drugs.

There's a new TV commercial on the air--it's basically a tutorial on Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Say what? Yep, real diagnosis. Your legs feel, well, restless; you feel compelled to move them, get up, walk around. If you do, the feeling temporarily subsides. RLS can be quite disruptive to your life. You can't sleep. You miss great chunks of important meetings. The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation (not kidding) says maybe ten percent of the population suffer from it. The commercial presents an animated lesson about RLS, and pays off with the news that there are new treatments for this scourge; you should ask your doctor about them. The treatment is not described, just the affliction. Only at the end of the commercial does the advertiser's logo appear: GlaxoSmithKline, a drug company. There's now a prescription drug, you see, approved to treat Restless Legs Syndrome. Though RLS was first described in 1940, its first drug treatment was only approved by the FDA two months ago, in May 2005. Thanks to the Web, and Google, it's now possible to find out what's going on here, so you don't have to rely on a TV commercial. TV commercials never tell the whole story. And, by not mentioning the drug, this one doesn't have to tell you about its side effects within its thirty or sixty seconds (drowsiness, dizziness, lowered blood pressure). The drug is named Requip. It was FDA approved in 1997 for the treatment of Parkinson's Disease. It's described as a second generation dopamine agonist. It stimulates the brain receptors for dopamine, a brain chemical that facilitates the passage of signals through the nervous system. It is reasonable that GlaxoSmithKline would research this drug to find other things it can do. Obviously, more people suffer from RLS than Parkinson's. I haven't found reports of anyone dying from RLS. But, today, a drug company is marketing a disorder, expecting to stimulate an increase in doctor visits, in which patients arrive before their doctors, diagnosis in hand. The quickest, easiest path for the physician is to prescribe a medication. Requip is the only prescription drug approved for treatment of RLS. The Web sites referenced here provide complete, appropriate information on the diagnosis, treatment and lifestyle changes for Restless Legs Syndrome, and the drug sites also contain the appropriate warnings. No doubt all physicians are receiving information on the drug from GSK. But drug marketing doesn't stop there. Thus, there's a "consumer" advertising campaign, pitching the disease. None of this is illegal. But, you have a right to know how marketing is changing healthcare. When it's just about your legs feeling restless, why not ask your doctor if there's a non-drug alternative to tweaking your brain.


gordonkillerman said...

Just to let you know, RLS is a very painful disease, and "restless" is (I know) a very inadequate term to describe the condition. I agree Glaxo is pushing Requip to "cure" an incurable disease, but Requip does seem to help lessen many of the painful and chronic symptoms of RLS patients.
By the way, RLS was not first described in 1940; if you got this off Glaxo's site or the RLS Foundation site, they are wrong. It was first described in the 1600s amongst New World settlers (see "Sleep Thief" by Virginia Wilson.)

Sleepless in Canada said...

I'd be the last one to defend the tactics of drug companies so rest assured I'm not doing that. What I am doing is finding serious fault with your uninformed statements that minimalize a very real sleeping disorder which has plagued me all of my life - years before I knew it even had a name, albeit a non-clinical sounding name. If you had spent just one of the many hours that I've spent sobbing during the creepy neurological firing of pain and crawling sensation inthe legs (and in some cases like mine, arms too)that is maddening to deal with, I expect your post may not have been so flippant. You didn't just mock a drug company - you mocked all of us who pray for a cure.

Open to Options said...

The reason they came up with such a dorky name for such an annoying condition is because like usual, they don't know what causes this condition. Even if she gets a fitfull sleep, it's like my wife is riding a bicycle and I don't get any sleep. Like Sleepless in Canada, I don't believe a damn thing that pharmaceutical companies have to say but it has improved our closeness since the Requip has begun to control my wife's RLS. This is not as simple a condition as you would have people believe by your offhanded dismissal of it as people "campaigning [or] pitching [a] disease."

Yes, there are quite often alternatives but after 7.5 yrs of our reduced quality of life thanks to RLS, we are very happy to invite this modicum of relief into our lives. Unlike many people, we are quite aware of alternative treatments and would usually avoid a pharmaceutical but we've tried everything.

Did you have an alternative suggestion?