An “Astroturf” Grassroots Campaign for a Female Viagra?

That’s what one drug industry skeptic is calling the successful effort last week to persuade an FDA advisory committee to reverse itself and recommend the agency approve a drug for “female hypoactive sexual desire disorder” called flibanserin.

The objective evidence is that the drug, which has to be taken daily, is only a smidgeon more effective than placebo and carries with it a raft of disturbing side effects such as the possibility of dangerously low blood pressure when taken with alcohol.

But a “grassroots” campaign called Even the Score (get it? nudge nudge) sent “activists” to the FDA advisory meeting to propose the idea that since men have Viagra and Cialis, women needed a drug too, despite concerns about its marginal efficacy.

In a blog piece on Health News Review, author Alan Cassels wrote:

These campaigners were, of course, the type normally found when there is a backer with deep pockets, in this case the manufacturer of flibanserin, whose care and feeding of the activists was important to keep reinforcing the mantra that we need an FDA-approved aphrodisiac for women.

This activity is classic faux-advocacy. The vocal and articulate activists and the specialists-for-hire are all part of what my coauthor Ray Moynihan and I called “Astroturf Activists” in our book Selling Sickness. Astroturf looks and feels like real grass, but as we know, it’s plastic, has no real grassroots, and really represents no community other than the one created by the big industry (be it tobacco, oil or in this case, the drug industry) that pays their bills. I can assure you, having seen this dozens of times over the last two decades, if there was no drug company funder, there would be no Even the Score campaign.

The FDA reviewers, clearly interested in hearing all sides of the issue, were astonishingly swayed by the Even the Score astroturfers. These advocates skillfully employed all the tools of slick, tech-savvy modern PR – schmoozing with Congress, as well as Tweeting and Facebooking under the banner of “gender equity” – to convince the panel that women with low sexual interest should be considered very sick people who need a daily drug to make their sex drive more “normal” (as if such a thing as “normal” actually exists).

Read more from Cassels here.

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