Advertising of Drugs Poses Consumer Risk

If you can name an ailment, you have probably seen a commercial advertising a pill to cure it.  If you are like me, you probably learned a few things from these commercials about diseases that you did not know existed.

They paint a picture of someone who is suffering terribly in their life due to this disease or condition.  Even drug companies must admit that in some cases they try very hard to create a need for their product by creating urgency about the most minor of conditions. Then they tell you that if this is you, there is hope! The end of the commercial presents a laundry list of legal disclaimers about all of the horrible things that the drug can. They typically list things like heart conditions, coma, and early death…but nothing to worry about.

We are privileged in the United States. The United States is only one of two countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products directly to consumers.  Consumer advertising works and the $300 billion United States pharmaceutical industry knows it.  The United States now represents the largest pharmaceutical industry in the world, maintaining a market share of a whopping 33 percent.

Direct to Consumer (DTC) advertising was first allowed in the United States in 1997.  Since that time, the FDA has loosened disclosure requirements allowing drug companies a loophole that they can use to avoid full disclosure of the known side effects of their product.

Drug commercials do have an impact on consumer use of the medical system.  In a recent survey, nearly seven percent of the respondents indicated that they had visited their doctor because of an ad that they saw on television for a prescription drug.  Nearly 27 percent of the survey respondents said that they had asked their doctor about a medical condition that they had not mentioned before seeing the advertisement.  Nearly 50 percent said that an advertisement for a drug caused them to seek more information about it and additional health conditions.

Physicians have a responsibility to do what is best for their patient, but they also have to think about their bottom line.  If a patient demands a certain drug from their doctor, the physician is pressured to prescribe it or risk losing a patient.  Some of the drugs are not what they appear to be in the commercials.  The most notable incident was the VIOXX fiasco.  Over 140,000 cardiac events including 60,000 deaths had to occur before the advertisement was pulled from the media and the drug pulled from the market.  Merck quickly responded by getting another similar drug onto the fast track approval process for marketing to the general public.

The pharmaceutical companies and media continue to be bedfellows, for good or bad.


Do you think drug should be advertised using mass media channels to the general public?  

Have you ever asked your doctor or thought about taking a prescription medication bcause of a television ad?  Leave us a comment, we would like to know.