Helena Hansen M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Psychiatry and Anthropology
New York University
Email: helena.hansen@nyumc.org Discipline: Psychiatry Expertise: Disparities, Health Services Research, Media and Health, Mental Health

Investigator Award
How Cultures of Medication are Made: Production of Race, Ethnicity and Class in Pharmaceutical Marketing
Award Year: 2013 Pharmaceuticals constitute the most profitable industry in the U.S., and account for almost half the global market. A fourth of industry earnings are spent on promotions. With this level of investment in marketing, pharmaceutical industries are potentially a major force shaping social and cultural patterns of health care utilization. There is growing evidence that pharmaceutical marketing targets consumer populations by ethnicity, race and social class. Here I ask, does pharmaceutical marketing itself constitute a source of racial, ethnic and class disparities in health? If so, what are the institutional mechanisms of pharmaceutical marketing leading to this outcome? I propose research on the logic and reach of pharmaceutical marketing strategies with regard to race, ethnicity and social class that will be the first to systematically document the range and pervasiveness of these strategies. The research will include participant-observation in three pharmaceutical marketing related corporate divisions, interviews with industry leaders, content analysis of pharmaceutical-related media, and quantitative analysis of regional pharmaceutical sales patterns in relation to promotional campaigns. Over time, it will increasingly focus on three drugs serving as case studies regarding the use of race, ethnicity and social class in their promotion. My research findings will inform current policy debates regarding regulation of marketing on state, institutional and community levels. This 48 month project will culminate in five peer reviewed journal articles and a book intended for professional and lay audiences.


Helena Hansen, MD, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the departments of Anthropology and Psychiatry at New York University. She has published on her fieldwork in Havana on Cuban AIDS policy, and in Puerto Rico on faith healing in evangelical Christian addiction ministries founded and run by self-identified ex-addicts. Her U.S. based study of pharmaceuticals for opiate dependence examines the social and political implications of clinicians’ efforts to establish addiction as a biomedical, rather than moral or social condition, as well as the ways that neurochemical treatments may be reinscribing hierarchies of ethnicity and race; it is the subject of her feature length documentary film on race, class and addiction pharmaceuticals.