Patient Groups

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Patient Groups, or patient-advocacy groups, are organizations which claim to represent the interests of patients suffering various physical and mental illnesses. Many are funded, and in some case staffed, by the pharmaceutical companies which sell treatments for the relevant illnesses.

"The American Diabetes Association, a leading patient health group, privately enlisted an Eli Lilly & Co. executive to chart its growth strategy and write its slogan. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, an outspoken patient advocate, lobbies for treatment programs that also benefit its drug-company donors. ... Although patients seldom know it, many patient groups and drug companies maintain close, multimillion-dollar relationships while disclosing limited or no details about the ties," reports Thomas Ginsberg, of the Philadelphiia Inquirer. [1]

In some cases, companies have "loaned" the services of their executives to advise or even lead patient groups. Ginsberg's investigation found that "the groups rarely disclose such ties when commenting or lobbying about donors' drugs. They also tend to be slower to publicize treatment problems than breakthroughs. And few openly questioned drug prices." [2]

Characteristics of patient-advocacy front groups

Patient advocacy groups that serve as pharmaceutical fronts may display some or all of the following characteristics.

They may:

  • Derive most, if not all of their revenue from pharmaceutical manufacturers;
  • Lobby for treatment programs that also benefit their drug-company donors;
  • Tend to be slower to publicize treatment problems than breakthroughs;
  • Tend not to openly question drug prices;
  • Tend to encourage patients to stay on their medications and offer programs to help patients stay on their medications, and push insurers to pay for it;
  • Funding from drug companies to the organization usually comes from the drug makers' marketing or sales divisions, not charity offices;
  • Fail to adequately discuss, or minimize discussion of adverse drug side effects of drugs like brain damage or suicide;
  • Fail to lobby for more or additional safety research due to the potential for cutoff of their pharma funding[1]
  • Focus on drugs as the preferred treatment, and neglect issues like housing and income support, vocational training, rehabilitation, and empowerment, all of which can play a role in recovery from mental illness.[2]

Truly independent patient advocacy groups are likely to be controlled by volunteers who actually take mental health drugs themselves. True grassroots patient advocacy groups are likely to have "fire walls" against donor influence, like policies against accepting funding from drug companies.

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