Monday, July 25, 2011

Insomnia, Western Medicine, and India

I saw an article in Reuters Health about drug companies pushing western medications in countries like Inida. The article was in reference to a newspaper ad published in India by the pharmaceutical company Abbott. The ad does not mention the drug Abbott makes, but uses a research finding to draw attention to insomnia by "scaring" consumers.

The ad says "research shows that sleeping less than 6 hours per night leads to a 48% increase in developing or dying from heart disease." This research is from a real study, but the underlying message implies that sleeping 6 or more hours will protect from heart disease - which is not necessarily true. There is a link on the ad to a website featuring Abbott's insomnia drug, Zolfresh, which is the same as Ambien. The concern is that this ad will drive demand for insomnia medications, with Indian consumers thinking they may protect their heart if they take a sleeping pill. This isn't necessarily true, as there are several studies showing an increased mortality rate for those taking sleeping pills, even when controlling for other medical diseases.

Apparently, incomes are rising, insurance coverage is expanding, and there is more chronic disease among people of India. This translates into a large, untapped market for pharmaceutical companies. The companies say they are raising awareness of disease and illness by running these ads - perhaps they are. However, on the ad in question, there is no mention of behavioral treatment for insomnia - which would be the preferred treatment modality by most sleep physicians. There are 10 questions that consumers can answer about their sleep. If they answer positive to just one of those, the ad suggests you talk to your doctor. I guess that's a good thing, as long as that doctor is able to do a thorough sleep assessment or refer those patients to sleep physicians.

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