I am one of those people who still watch the news on cable, rather than solely on social media, streaming services, and other internet sources. And because I still watch the news on cable, I am part of the aging demographic that is bombarded with ads from drug companies.
There are ads for diabetes drugs that lower your A1C level, ads for drugs that supposedly prolong your life if you have advanced cancer, ads for drugs to relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s, ads for drugs to help manage asthma, ad nauseum. Perhaps all these drugs have their place, and if so, I hope they actually do some good for those who need them.
But I find the ads ridiculous. Inevitably, as images of happy folks living wonderful lives in loving relationships flash across the screen, accompanied by up-beat music, the voice-over ends the sales pitch with a laundry list (because they must, under FDA regulations for marketing directly to patients) of all the dire side effects that could happen. Why would you want to take a drug to manage bipolar disorder, to name just one example, if it could potentially make you feel suicidal? Isn’t the cure worse than the medical condition?
Of all the required warnings, however, the one that strikes me as most inane cautions the viewer not to take Drug X if you’re allergic to it. So, how do you know if you’re allergic to Drug X if you’ve never taken it?
Apparently only in America—and in New Zealand, it turns out—can drug companies peddle prescription drugs directly to easy marks, excuse me, potential patients. How fortunate for us. I suppose the strategy is if you push brand recognition, a patient would, of course, ask her physician to prescribe the particular miracle cure. Unless, of course, she listened to that long list of negative side effects.
The goal of this information overload is undoubtedly truth in advertising. A good thing. But when we only hear a litany of side effects, absent the evidence-based, actual risk of having a particular bad reaction to the drug, the information is basically useless.
I have a better idea. Just cut all drug ads for good, like we did years ago for tobacco products. The money that goes into making and placing these ad campaigns only hikes the cost of prescription drugs for the people who actually need them. It’s high time for Big Pharma’s marketing strategy, priming patient demand to push their pills to physicians, to go the way of the Marlboro Man and ride off into the sunset.
Image: Myriam Zilles