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How Drug Companies Created Osteoperosis to Sell Drugs

April 10, 2011

How Drug Companies Created Osteoperosis to Market Drugs.

I recently heard Dr. Pam Poppers tell this fascinating story of how Merck created osteoporosis to sell more Fosamax.

Around 1995, Merck hired a marketing guy Jeremy Allen to promote Fosamax which was not selling well at the time.

Allen had an idea – to put bone density scanners in doctors offices and then make the scanners cheap to use. At the time, in 1995, these scanners were very rare and expensive. They were large machines where women laid on the full machine and got a body scan. Furthermore, these scanners were no reimbursed by insurance companies.

So Jeremy Allen created the Bone Measurement Institute and identified cheaper machines that measured density in the forearm, heels, and fingers rather than the hips and spines.

According to Richard Mazess, PhD, who is the founder of Lunar Corporation said the reason he believed the cheaper peripheral machines were not effective and thus would “lead to bad medicine.”

“We were not about to go ahead and tell physicians to use inadequate diagnostic equipment simply because Merck wanted that.” Because Lunar Corporation refused to cooperate, his company was threatened.

Merck said, “you’re not going to get support from Merck and we’ll support your competitors and we’ll tell others working with Merck not to use Lunar Machines.” Basically they were going to make sure Lunar Corporation paid the price.

Merck ended up purchasing its own scanner company in order to show others in the market place that they were serious about pursuing this business model. As soon as other competitors started making cheap peripheral bone density scanners, Merck closed that part of the company.

Then Merck applied their efforts to getting the machines approved by the FDA, getting them into doctors offices, and arranging leasing programs to make them more affordable. Merck also got bone scans approved for reimbursement by Medicare and lobbying to pass the Bone Mass Measurement Act. In addition to lobbying on its own, Merck funded other organizations that funded the bill too.

This was a big turning point because once doctors knew they could get reimbursed they started purchasing the machines and since the scans were essentially free, people were willing to get bone scans.

And then the final piece of the marketing scheme was a lower dose of Fosamax for women diagnosed with osteopenia and teaching doctors how to diagnose osteopenia. The results of scans were reported using color charts:

Green meant normal, red meant osteoporosis, and yellow meant osteopenia.

A medical report listing one of these conditions had a huge effect! Women wanted to know what to do about it, and of course, drugs like Fossimax were the answer.

So what we had really was a great marketing guy, Jeremy Allen, who figured out that if we could find a way in the medical field to show women that they had a disease condition that they would agree to take drugs and pay a lot of money and boy was he right.

Good for Merck shareholders, bad for women, bad for U.S. taxpayers.

Even so, if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, you can naturally improve your bone health with excellent nutrition.

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