Pay attention to what drug ads are saying!

JAH from the shadows

The US and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow drugs to be advertised on television.  Many of the drugs that are advertised have limited effects on recovering from disease, with some extending patient lives by a few months.  Many of the drugs have major side effects that can cause serious consequences while providing few long-term benefits.

There is a standard format used for TV drug ads.  The beginning of the ad states the benefits of the drug.  This portion paints a bright picture of people living longer, living better, or just sharing the moment with a grandchild.  There are often dire results portrayed if the patient doesn’t take the drug.  Mostly, people are smiling and stating they are glad that they took the drug.  The same formats are used in print ads, but you will usually just see these in the doctor’s office.

Then comes the not so good news.

The middle of the ad provides serious warnings of what might happen if you take the drug, but these things occur infrequently.   The drug that is supposed to help cure an ailment may kill you, make you blind, lead to cancer, strokes or heart attacks.  You are warned to not take the drug if you are allergic to it or any of its components.  Clues as to how you can determine if you are allergic are not mentioned.  If you have a family history of a serious health problem or are pregnant or may become pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before taking this drug.  It can be assumed that the doctor will tell you not to take it.

The end of the ad usually has two components.  The list of common side effects for the drug that could kill you, cause cancer, or make you blind may also make you constipated or cause diarrhea, sleepless or drowsy, etc.  Then we see the patient’s smiling face accompanied by a concerned companion or a loving child.  The end.

This is a pessimistic view of drug commercials, but also highly accurate.  While research is touted as to why drugs that cost $8.00 in India cost $1,000 dollars in the US, a major cause of the cost difference is the cost of promotion of the drugs.  TV ads are actually a huge, but smaller cost component of the drugs.  Direct promotion to physicians and medical institutions are a larger component of drug costs.

With healthcare being a major concern of the population of the US, the costs of drugs are an important component.  Through clever payoffs to members of Congress, which are also called lobbying, Congress has prohibited the Medicare administrator from negotiating drug costs.  The only beneficiaries of this arrangement are the Congress members and their PACs, and the pharmaceutical companies.

The prohibition of drug advertisements on TV, magazines in physicians’ offices, and on social media should be instituted.  Negotiated prices for drugs should be allowed by Medicare as well as the major insurance companies and their intermediaries.  Most of all, potential patients should pay attention to the total contents of the ads for a health issue you have.  Here is a useful tip.  Don’t take the drugs that the lawyers are asking on TV if you have taken a drug and had a bad result.  They know where the real problems occur.


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