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Hearts, Minds, and Maladies: Toward a Critical Theory of the Commodification of Pharmaceuticals
Unformatted Document Text:  9 to violent and suicidal behavior (DeGrandpre 2002). Paxil, another SSRI, contains the sounds z and k like Prozac, along with “crackling, buzzing sounds [which] may subliminally suggest activity to back up the sequence ac, which suggests the word action” (Begley 2002). GlaxoSmithKline PLC, the maker of Paxil, with 2001 sales of $2.67 billion, was ordered by a federal judge in August to discontinue advertising claims that the drug is “non-habit forming” after patients complained of withdrawal symptoms which included “’getting extraordinarily sick, throwing up every hour on the hour for two months,” and suffering from “’electric zaps … as if you were being charged with electricity through your brain” (Bravin, Naik, and Adams, 2002). When products with such potentially deleterious physical and mental side effects cannot easily be commodified via advertising pharmaceutical companies now manipulate the ideational receptivity of potential consumers by changing – or creating -- the popularly understood meanings of the maladies themselves. It is in this way, for example, that US and Japanese pharmaceutical companies are paving the way for the sale of SSRI’s in Japan. The pharmaceutical company Meiji Seika Co., in an attempt to get a drug approved by Japanese regulators in the 1980s for obsessive-compulsive disorder, realized that Japan didn’t have any standard test for determining the alleged “disorder.” It therefore proceeded to write its own definition, using the U.S. standard as a template. In the late 1990s Meiji received approval from Japanese regulators to market its own Prozac like drug, Luvox, but faced the problem of having the drug accepted by the Japanese public. Meiji and several other interested corporate partners “set about effecting nothing less than a sweeping cultural change.” One crucial step: altering the language people use to discuss depression. The Japanese word for clinical depression, utsu-byo, had unpleasant associations with severe psychiatric illness. So Meiji and its partners began using the phrase kokoro no kaze, which loosely translated means “the soul catching a cold.” The message: If you

Authors: Tracy, James.
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to violent and suicidal behavior (DeGrandpre 2002). Paxil, another SSRI,
contains the sounds z and k like Prozac, along with “crackling, buzzing sounds
[which] may subliminally suggest activity to back up the sequence ac, which
suggests the word action” (Begley 2002). GlaxoSmithKline PLC, the maker of
Paxil, with 2001 sales of $2.67 billion, was ordered by a federal judge in August
to discontinue advertising claims that the drug is “non-habit forming” after
patients complained of withdrawal symptoms which included “’getting
extraordinarily sick, throwing up every hour on the hour for two months,” and
suffering from “’electric zaps … as if you were being charged with electricity
through your brain” (Bravin, Naik, and Adams, 2002).
When products with such potentially deleterious physical and mental side
effects cannot easily be commodified via advertising pharmaceutical companies
now manipulate the ideational receptivity of potential consumers by changing –
or creating -- the popularly understood meanings of the maladies themselves. It
is in this way, for example, that US and Japanese pharmaceutical companies are
paving the way for the sale of SSRI’s in Japan. The pharmaceutical company
Meiji Seika Co., in an attempt to get a drug approved by Japanese regulators in
the 1980s for obsessive-compulsive disorder, realized that Japan didn’t have any
standard test for determining the alleged “disorder.” It therefore proceeded to
write its own definition, using the U.S. standard as a template. In the late 1990s
Meiji received approval from Japanese regulators to market its own Prozac like
drug, Luvox, but faced the problem of having the drug accepted by the Japanese
public. Meiji and several other interested corporate partners “set about effecting
nothing less than a sweeping cultural change.”
One crucial step: altering the language people use to discuss
depression. The Japanese word for clinical depression, utsu-byo, had
unpleasant associations with severe psychiatric illness. So Meiji and
its partners began using the phrase kokoro no kaze, which loosely
translated means “the soul catching a cold.” The message: If you


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