Depression drug advertising claims called into question

Two pharmaceutical companies based advertising claims about the seriousness of physical pain in depression patients on a scientific paper, which itself was based data from an Internet-based survey performed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves for publicity purposes, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. The advertising and its methods have been greatly criticised.

The neutrality of the campaign and the paper have been brought into question.

An advertising campaign by Shionogi & Co. and Eli Lilly Japan K.K. running since October and encompassing TV commercials, newspapers advertisements and a special website, was intended to inform the public of the purported fact that many depression patients also suffer from physical pain, in addition to their psychological pain.

However, the campaign was met with a flood of criticism from doctors, patients and patients' families. The paper was used as the basis of a claim in commercials from the firms, that depression can also cause physical pains.

The ads call for people to visit their doctors, stressing that headache and shoulder pains are primary symptoms of depression though these are not adopted in the international criteria for diagnosis of depression. This is not the case.

The article was submitted to Comprehensive Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Psychopathological Association, by the associate professor of the neuropsychiatry department of Kochi University and two other authors. It appeared in the journal in 2012.

The three authors analysed a survey with responses from 663 depression patients and 456 doctors and concluded that 68.6 per cent of depression patients felt that physical pain hindered their recovery from the disease.

However, the survey was conducted by the Utsu no Itami Joho Center (Center for information on pains of depression), which was launched by the two pharmaceutical firms as a depression PR organ. The Kochi University associate professor served as a supervisor of the survey.

The paper mentions that Shionogi cooperated in the editing process of the article, but fails to explain that the survey used was that of the two companies.

"The self-serving use of the companies' own research, made into a paper by a third party to lend authority to their campaign, poses a serious problem," said psychiatrist Takeo Saio, the director of Fuji Toranomon Health Promotion Center.

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