Stacy London: What not to Take

Three weeks ago Johanna Ryan and Kim Witczak wrote a letter to Stacy London about Humira and AbbVie. They were hoping for a response but there has been none so far. 

There’s Something About Stacy

Stacy London of What Not to Wear fame has a lot going for her. She is a successful business woman, style guru and role model for women around the world. AbbVie must be delighted to have her partner with them in their campaign supporting psoriasis sufferers called Uncover Your Confidence.

“Through the Uncover Your Confidence campaign, I hope to inspire others living with psoriasis to be self-assured through their own personal style, stay positive and find the right dermatologist to help them manage their disease”

You see, AbbVie sell Humira.

The HumVie

Humira is a monoclonal antibody – one of the new biological agents that acts on the immune system. Its side effects can be so nasty it has a black box warning on it.

Humira: Yes, death is a possible side effect. Created by Billiam James

Despite this, it’s on its way to becoming the best-selling drug of all time. You don’t get to be a best-seller on this scale without pushing the marketing envelope way beyond those who are seriously enough ill to warrant taking risks with a dangerous drug. Without running a marketing campaign that is to old-style drug marketing as a HumVie is to one of the smaller European cars.

The company have already been warned by the FDA for promoting Humira for milder conditions and misleading about its safety. The marketing includes many emotive messages – with images suggesting children are repelled by a single patch of psoriasis.

The marketing of Humira shows how healthcare is being transformed into a Humiraverse, in which celebrities can have a part to play.

What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This

Companies often recruit celebrities to front disease awareness campaigns to increase sales of their drugs. It’s one thing to use celebrities to front fashion campaigns. Selling drugs is trickier.

Psoriasis is an unpleasant disease. My father had it till the day he died and I can remember the coal-tar, ultraviolet light treatments and endless steroids.

It would be great to have a magic wand to wave over all sufferers to cure it. But you wouldn’t knowingly take chemotherapy to treat a patch of scaly skin on your neck.

Humira is not a magic wand. Would someone who develops a cancer after taking it think it was worth it? What would Cynthia di Bartolo say?

You would be forgiven for thinking after seeing this campaign that Stacy had taken Humira and that’s why she looks great and seems to have no problem with psoriasis. But as she reports in her book, Stacy had a tonsillectomy at 17 which resolved her psoriasis.

“Not only did the operation clear up my skin,” she writes, “but I haven’t had an outbreak of psoriasis since.”

This is not a blame Stacy pitch. It’s almost impossible not to become part of the Humiraverse these days. As outlined elsewhere on this blog companies can even put lectures by me about the risks of suicide and homicide on SSRIs to good use to increase the sales of these same SSRIs.

But there is something we all can do that can make a difference – we can AbbVie. And no-one is better placed to do this than Stacy.

Stacy goes to London – or not

Whether part of their HumVie marketing campaign or not, AbbVie have taken an action against the European Medicines Agency, which is based in London. They are trying to block access to data on the side effects of Humira. If they win they will block access to all data on all drugs.

In a desperate effort to counteract this, a few of us have launched an AbbVie campaign several weeks ago.

One of the people who could give this campaign the profile it really needs is Stacy. She can support psoriasis sufferers as she has always done or can really do something significant for psoriasis sufferers and everyone else who is taking any medicine for any reason, by helping to make everyone aware of the risks AbbVie’s legal action poses to everyone. A letter from Stacy in support of the European Medicines Agency policy of open access to clinical trial data would be really powerful.

What not to Eat

Stacy is famous for her What Not to Wear campaign – helping people to dress better to feel better about themselves.

Helping people use drugs better would improve the lives of millions. But we can’t use drugs better if we don’t have access to the basic information about them.

Many drugs can cause skin problems – which can be devastating. Stacy could look at the RxISK skin zone. Here you can find a collection of drugs that cause skin problems as side effects. Many people are not aware of this and they can have devastating consequences. Stacy has outlined in her book just how devastating the harmful effects of steroids were on her skin – because she hadn’t been given the right information.

Johanna and Kim wrote to Stacy on July 26th. No response. Keep checking here. We’ll keep you posted.

Illustration: Humira: Yes, “death” is a possible side effect, © 2013 created by Billiam James

RxISK: Research and report prescription drug side effects on

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Pharmaceutical companies have hijacked healthcare in America, and the results are life-threatening.


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  1. The more I see of AbbVie’s “psoriasis awareness” campaign, the more I’m struck with the mind games they’re playing. On the one hand, they tell us we’re wrong to think of psoriasis as a “mere rash” that’s primarily a beauty question – it’s a serious disease. On the other hand, they zero in on the self-esteem issues and resulting depression that plague many patients, especially women … because of the social stigma.

    So it is looks, after all, they want us to focus on. And wrapping this up in a feel-good “anti-stigma” message from Stacy London is the perfect soft sell.

    What to do about all that stigma and shame? Is AbbVie running ads to tell the public that no, psoriasis isn’t contagious, or a sign of poor hygiene? Are they really helping women with the disease feel good about their whole selves? Nope. In their ads, attractive young people are out living their lives when suddenly someone looks askance at the scaly red patch on their arm or neck, and they feel ashamed.

    That’s when they make the decision to talk to their doctor – and get some medicine that will “work inside their body” to clear up their skin so others will accept them! The litany of scary side effects like TB, fungal infections and cancer is overwhelmed by the soft-focus video stream of the patient’s happy new life.

    If this is an anti-stigma campaign, I’d hate to see what stigmatizing looks like …

  2. PatientCenteredPerspective says:

    Thank you David Healy for helping to uncover the misselling of pharmaceutical drugs and enabling the public to become aware of just how much the industry continues to underplay the serious side effects of today’s prescribed drugs.
    At the moment I am on Tocilizumab – similar to Humira, in that it’s an immunosuppressant biologic used to treat moderate to severe RA. Unfortunately it suits me best to take it at the moment as I have severe RA. While I still struggle with a certain degree of pain and many symptoms associated with Rheumatoid, before treatment I was in extreme pain and physically very limited. Due to this my mental health also significantly deteriorated, and I was at greater risk of serious complications resulting from this disease ( there are many ). However, I am all to aware of the serious risks to these drugs… I have to contend with many side effects but luckily they all seem to be on the minor end of the scale but definitely not pleasant nonetheless! I am just looking forward to the day researchers come up with less toxic treatments for such diseases. I am also hoping that, at some point in the not too distant future, I come off all drug treatments for a time so as I can have a family, when and if I decide to. However, I am aware this will be a particular challenge not only for me but also for those treating me due to having such an aggressive form of RA. I guess that’s all the more reason to look after myself to a greater degree than I have been.

    The decision to take such medications is very personal one, which you are only likely to encounter if you have a serious autoimmune illness. However, I would certainly say that unless you have moderate to severe illness, then the risks may just outweigh any benefit…It’s definitely not a decision to be taken lightly.
    It is vital that people are made aware of just exactly what it is they are taking or being offered as a potential treatment. Drug companies and prescribers should always explain the possibility of any side effects, especially if they may be serious and/or detrimental to quality of life.

    Having to be on such harsh drugs is also a further reason for me not taking a mood stabiliser at this time ~ maybe not so logical but it’s just too much! The decision to go back on an antidepressant was bad enough but one that I have come to terms with at this juncture. It may not be the best or even a recommended treatment for Bipolar but it is one which I am currently content with for myself. And yet another reason to take care of myself more thoroughly and holistically.

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