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Friday, January 29, 2010

So you have osteopenia? Now what?

As reported on NPR (go to or directly to,
osteopenia began as a term invented to label test subjects who do NOT have osteoporosis, which is a condition of low bone density. Osteoporosis in the 1990's had just begun to be treated with a new drug by Merck called Fosamax (alendronate). Unfortunately for Merck you needed to have a bone density scan to be properly diagnosed. The scan was expensive and usually not covered under insurance (surprise, surprise). The machines were also expensive and only large medical centers had them. So Merck had this great drug to treat an illness that few would be diagnosed with. What to do?

Well, if you're a fancy schmancy big pharma company you decide, Hey! What was that term used for people who DON'T have osteoporosis? Yeah, that one: Osteopenia. We'll just treat that one! And, we'll buy up a bone density machine maker and Presto! Chang-o! We shrink the machine and make it less expensive so that everybody will be able to get a bone density scan.

Now that last part sounds good...until you find out that a scan of the finger or arm doesn't necessarily mean your hip bone is that same density. Basically, Merck funded the ability to treat a non-illness. There is no proof that treating osteopenia lowers fractures...and that's kind of the point isn't it?

That's the power of marketing. That's the power of Big Pharma.

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