Pharmaceutical company's greed is easily apparent as it pushes to medicate binge-eating disorder


As UB acknowledges National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it shines a spotlight on not just anorexia and bulimia, but binge eating disorder (BED) as well.

Unfortunately, that spotlight has attracted the attention of the vulture known as Shire – a pharmaceutical company with a dangerously savvy marketing strategy.

Increased awareness of what was once barely recognized as a legitimate mental condition is certainly a positive step.

Like other eating disorders, BED is commonly – and most successfully – treated with talk therapy. The disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrollable eating in which individuals continue to consume food long after feeling full, even when the experience becomes uncomfortable or painful. Individuals suffering from BED are often overweight or obese, but that’s not always the case.

Though the disorder was first identified in 1959, it has long been a source of skepticism and its inclusion as an eating disorder is a sign of a hard-fought battle. Because its sufferers are not underweight like many sufferers of anorexia or bulimia, BED often generates scorn rather than concern.

But ultimately BED, like other eating disorders, causes individuals to lose control of their eating habits. Those struggling with the disorder deserve treatment and support.

Treatment in this case should be psychological. Individuals need to learn effective coping mechanisms and develop an understanding of the underlying causes and triggers of their disorder.

Like other eating disorders, BED’s origins are psychological, not physiological.

Accordingly, Shire’s attempt to market medication to treat BED is frightening.

The medication, called Vyvanse, is an amphetamine already used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One of its side effects is loss of appetite.

Shire already made billions from Vyvanse as an ADHD medication when they successfully employed a marketing campaign to raise awareness for the condition, and then sold the solution.

Now, with the same drug in hand, Shire is doing the same with BED. Although raising awareness and increasing the legitimacy of this disorder’s profile is beneficial, Shire’s motives are solely financial.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that amphetamines like Vyvanse are likely to be abused, but Shire somehow received rapid approval from the federal government to market the drug as a medication for BED.

Vyvanse received a green light because the drug is already widely recognized as an ADHD treatment, so its safety profile is established and because there is no other treatment for BED.

But Vyvanse is not a treatment for BED. All Vyvanse does is suppress the appetite.

Vyvanse effectively masks the symptoms of BED, but does nothing to address the psychological source of the disease. Individuals may no longer feel hunger, but they won’t be cured – an individual with a broken leg isn’t considered healed when the morphine kicks in.

Amphetamines have commonly been abused as a treatment for obesity, and now Shire is offering the same type of drug under the guise of treatment for a new disease.

This is a worrisome development in the realm of eating disorders, as drugs that physiologically alter the appetite do nothing but treat the symptoms of a disease.

Individuals with BED may be able to stop binge eating or do so less frequently on the drug but the cause of their disorder will have gone ignored, stifled by a pill being pushed on individuals who don’t need it.

Vyvanse not only fails to treat BED, but may very well dissuade individuals from seeking the appropriate forms of talk therapy that are actually needed to treat the disorder.

In selling such a problematic medication, Shire’s actions are morally abhorrent and reflect not only greed but a complete disregard for the health of American citizens. For a company that sells pharmaceuticals, Shire’s priorities are clearly not medicinal.