Drug Evaluation and the Permissive Principle: Continuities and Contradictions between Standards and Practices in Antidepressant Regulation

Abraham, John and Davis, Courtney (2009) Drug Evaluation and the Permissive Principle: Continuities and Contradictions between Standards and Practices in Antidepressant Regulation. Social Studies of Science, 39 (4). pp. 569-598. ISSN 0306-3127

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Abstract

Pharmaceuticals are not permitted on to the market unless they are granted regulatory approval. The regulatory process is, therefore, crucial in whether or not a drug is widely prescribed. Regulatory agencies have developed standards of performance that pharmaceuticals are supposed to meet before entering the market. Regulation of technologies is often discussed by reference to the precautionary principle. In contrast, this paper develops the concept of the `permissive principle' as a way of understanding the departure of regulators' practices from standards of drug efficacy to which regulatory agencies themselves subscribe. By taking a case study of antidepressant regulation in the UK and the USA, the mechanisms of permissive regulatory practices are examined. An STS methodology of both spatial (international) and temporal comparisons of regulatory practices with regulatory standards is employed to identify the nature and extent of the permissive regulation. It is found that the permissive principle was adopted by drug regulators in the UK and the USA, but more so by the former than the latter. Evidently, permissive regulation, which favours the commercial interests of the drug manufacturer, but is contrary to the interests of patients, may penetrate to the heart of regulatory science. On the other hand, permissive regulation of specific drugs should not be regarded as an inevitable result of marketing strategies and concomitant networks deployed by powerful pharmaceutical companies, because the extent of permissive regulation may vary according to the intra-institutional normative commitments of regulators to uphold their technical standards against the commercial interests of the manufacturer. Likely sociological factors that can account for such permissive regulatory practices are `corporate bias', secrecy and excessive regulatory trust in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK, political expediency and ideological capture in the USA, combined in both countries with some regulatory deference to the clinical autonomy of the psychiatry profession.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Depositing User: John Abraham
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:11
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2012 21:38
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/19516
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