Listening to Lyrica: Contested Illnesses and Pharmaceutical Determinism – Source: Social Science and Medicine, Jul 28, 2011

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a debilitating pain disorder of unknown origins and a paradigmatic contested illness. As with other contested illnesses, the reality of fibromyalgia is disputed by many physicians.

Thus, millions of individuals who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia must cope with chronic symptoms as well as medical and public skepticism.

In this context, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration’s approval of Lyrica, the first prescription medication specifically for the management of fibromyalgia, is of considerable interest.

In this paper I examine the cultural logic whereby the existence (and marketing) of an officially approved prescription medication for a condition lends support to the biomedical existence of the condition itself.’

I label this logic pharmaceutical determinism and argue that it represents an important new phase in the proliferation of contested illness diagnoses.

Using the case of Lyrica, I describe the role that pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceuticals themselves play in promoting and legitimating contested diagnoses and validating those who are so diagnosed.

Through a narrative analysis of the Lyrica direct-to-consumer advertising campaign and the responses of fibromyalgia sufferers to the introduction and marketing of Lyrica, I demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, contested illness legitimization, and medicalization.

I also provide a gender analysis of this relationship, foregrounding how contested illnesses continue to be shaped by their feminization in a cultural context that equates women with irrationality.

Finally, I address the consequences and limitations of relying on the pharmaceutical industry for illness validation.

Source: Social Science and Medicine, Jul 28, 2011. Barker KK, Oregon State University, Sociology, Corvallis, Oregon, USA.

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One thought on “Listening to Lyrica: Contested Illnesses and Pharmaceutical Determinism – Source: Social Science and Medicine, Jul 28, 2011”

  1. IanH says:

    This is a great example of drug driven medicine. The presence of a real drug defines the disease. INCREDIBLE! One of the main causes of iatrogenic disease.

    Imagine if you could go to your doctor and ask them advice on how to prevent diseases for which you suspect you are at risk. The response would be totally inadequate. On the whole, doctors are very bad at prophylaxis and health advice. That is because “health” is outside the drug box. If you go to your doctor and tell them what you want, as I did recently you might get an angry reaction. ( I wanted a prescription for vitamin D because here in NZ, our “wise” government dept. of health has deemed vitamin D a restricted medicine). The doctor knows nothing of ME/CFS and certainly thinks vitamin D is only needed for osteoporosis.

    Doctors want you to know nothing, they don’t want you to consult WebMD or the internet in general. This situation is dire. Some doctors I know do take a role in educating their patients, they recommend the internet but they are a great minority. It is time this changed. Educating people about their health and what to do to prevent disease would reduce iatrogenic illness and death as well as reduce the massively rising “health budget”.

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