Do you realize that most American homes invite legal drug pushers into their homes each evening between 7:00 – 10:00 PM? It’s called prime-time TV. I don’t know about you, but I detest this infringement on my time as well as the assumption that somehow these commercials provide some sort of good health information. However, I do see one redeemable quality which is the obvious fact that the list of side-effects and/or contraindications are sometimes longer than the commercial itself! Hopefully parents are pointing this out to their children.
It is no secret that Big Pharma is Big Business, but apparently it is not big enough, at least from their perspective. I am a firm believer in free enterprise, and advertising to increase sales is a key part of marketing for most companies and their products. However, prescription drugs is a whole ‘nother animal, and I find it very difficult to justify prime time TV advertising (sometimes as many as five advertisements during an hour program) of such drugs for several reasons.
These Ads Are Absurd
“Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising does exactly what it is intended to do — increase sales for drug companies. Increasingly, it does that by promoting medical conditions, as well as drugs. If the industry can convince essentially normal people that minor complaints require long-term drug treatment, its market will grow. The argument that ads educate consumers is self-evidently absurd. No one should look to an investor-owned company for objective, unbiased information about products it sells. Do we ask the Ford dealer whether his cars are any good?”(1)
The Vioxx Scandal
“In his lone dissent from the 1976 Supreme Court case that enabled drug companies to advertise, Justice William Rehnquist observed that “the societal interest against the promotion of drug use for every ill, real and imaginary, seems to me exceptionally strong.” It would be hard to find a better example than the case of Vioxx, the Merck pain killer. Vioxx, a COX-2 inhibitor, was originally approved for use by a small but important group of pain sufferers: those who had sensitive stomachs. Yet Merck’s multimillion-dollar ad campaign went much further, repeatedly asserting in ads and media coverage that Vioxx was also better at controlling pain than existing (inexpensive) anti-inflammatories. It wasn’t. After years of covering up negative safety data about Vioxx, Merck finally withdrew the drug, but not before an estimated 25,000 people died from it, along with 140,000 cases of heart disease.”(2)
We have to ask ourselves if it is morally responsible to expose American families (including impressionable children and young people) to slick ads that glorify the use of the latest pill or potion from the drug companies. The assumption that the answers to our health needs are to be found by taking drugs is of course the mainstream view supported by conventional medicine and Big Pharma. However, it is important to remember that this type of “healthcare” is not the only option. In fact, mass advertising of prescription drugs is probably one of the largest factors involved in making treatment of illness drug-centered in this country. Never mind natural or preventative medicine that seeks to keep us well (prevention) without the use of toxic drugs. Forget about thousands of years of treating and preventing illness through a lifestyle of wellness and proven natural and herbal methods. The money and power of the drug company/Big Medicine complex is poured towards brainwashing Americans into swallowing (pun intended) the ridiculous assumption that if they take the right drug, their pain and suffering will go away and they will live happy and healthy lives (as long as they take their medication). Because of the propaganda they force on us through prime time television, many Americans believe that taking whatever meds their doctor prescribes them is the only way to get or stay healthy – despite the awful list of side effects of many of these drugs, including huge financial sacrifices for many individuals and families to pay for them. And with these prime time drug ads the last “thought” we are left with is “ask your doctor”. What doctor isn’t willing to write a script for the latest drug adding to his/her sales record for the local pharmaceutical rep to tally?
What about the issue of truth in advertising? Are most drug ads playing up the supposed benefits of the product and understating the often harmful (and sometimes potentially fatal) consequences of putting these drugs into our bodies? I think so! America has a history of banning or restricting advertising for dangerous substances such as tobacco or alcohol. Yet, despite the hazardous and often addictive nature of many prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical firms are given free reign to inundate the public – young and old – with economic, social, and cultural pressure to purchase and use this stuff.
If advertising for prescription drugs must be allowed, it should be limited to healthcare providers and insurance companies, who are the true consumers and purchasers of such products in most cases. Big Pharma certainly panders to these groups already. We shouldn’t be subjected to the additional cost of TV advertising. It seems that just about every time one goes to see a doctor, there is at least one drug company rep lurking in the background, eager to dispense samples of and literature about the latest and greatest creation of their employer. Aren’t these massive marketing campaigns alone quite enough?
Considering all the evidence, prime time TV advertising of prescription drugs is not only unnecessary, but it is also not in the best interest of the consumer. With all the talk lately about healthcare reform, perhaps legislation to eliminate this wasteful and unethical practice would be in order.
Many people have told me that the way they personally boycott all this unwanted drug advertising is by using their DVD to record programs and then fast-forwarding over all the commercials. Another suggestion is to simply get rid of the TV – it’s a time waster and most of the programming serves no real purpose.
(1) (2) – The New York Times – Opinion Page – Room For Debate. August 4, 2009. Should Prescription Drug Ads Be Reined In? http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/should-prescription-drug-ads-be-reined-in/