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A pill for all occasions!

Martin B Van Der Weyden
Med J Aust 2006; 185 (5): 241.
Published online: 4 September 2006

The BBC recently ran a program on summer camps in the United States, focusing on a new phenomenon — long lines of American youngsters queuing up before breakfast for their daily dose of pills; for anxiety, attention deficit disorders, depression, panic attacks and numerous other behavioural problems. Apparently, such pill parades are not uncommon.

The reasons are complex, but appear to reflect current cultural expectations that families be happy and perfect, coupled with a low societal tolerance for ill health. Compounding these factors is direct health advertising that markets a pill for every conceivable health problem. Any deviation from normality requires not only a medical interpretation but also intervention. It seems that philosopher Ivan Illich’s prophesy that “the medicalization of health increases demand for services far beyond the possible and useful, and undermines that organic coping ability which common sense calls health” is alive and well.

On 1 April this year, the BMJ reported that Australian scientists had uncovered a new health condition — motivational deficiency disorder (MoDeD), characterised by overwhelming and debilitating apathy. The report estimated that MoDeD might cost the Australian economy $2.4 billion a year in lost productivity, but that, thankfully, an effective and well tolerated pill had been developed. The ground-breaking work must have enjoyed widespread interest, and for good reasons! Here was a potential medical explanation for poor school performance, lack of ambition, voluntary unemployment and alternative lifestyles.

Two weeks later the BMJ revealed that MoDeD was an April Fool’s Day prank. Understandably, the media was not amused. New Zealand’s Dominion Post thundered, “Credibility is hard earned. You have damaged yours and ours . . . ”

Clearly, modern society expects medicine to provide a pill for all occasions, whether these be aberrations of eating, drinking, learning, working, loving, sleeping, or anything else. Illich would turn in his grave.

  • Martin B Van Der Weyden


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