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Andrew Lewis, “You can die from it, but take it anyway”…

We’ve all seen prescription medications advertised on TV –now, they are rampant – but prior to 1986 those TV ads didn’t even exist – and that’s the way it should be again.  I maintain that as a matter of our public health and welfare commercials for prescription medications should be banned from television. 

The Nielsen Co. estimates there are an average of 80 drug ads every hour of every day on American television. Direct to the consumer advertising for prescription medications on which over $4B / year is spent  –   has NO place on television  – just as is the case with cigarette advertising.

Consider just some of the impacts of this advertising:

  • one implicit illusion is that after 30-60 seconds of slick messaging you now know more about medicine than your physician may;
  • another is that a pill will solve your problems and that may be the extent of your responsibility.

In 1992  the average American took 7 prescription medications a year,  that number has steadily increased so as of 2014  Kaiser Family Foundation reports that now the average American has over 12.7 prescriptions per year – one instance where I’m glad I’m well below average – not even on the chart.

So What’s behind this advertising?  Duh … $$ MONEY.

The US and New Zealand are the only countries that allow prescription medications to be advertised on TV. There’s lots of money to be made – big pharma, ad agencies, network television when the patient influenced by glossy commercials is telling their doctor what they want to be prescribed to them.

Julie Donohue, a professor and noted expert on public health at the University of Pittsburgh has reported that now approximately  1/3 of patients ask for medication by name. And approximately  50% are given the prescriptions the patient asks for.

Okay, you may be thinking,    “but this doesn’t apply to me – I know better than to be swayed into asking for a prescription just because I saw it on television..”

Hopefully, that’s true for you, but what about a 65-70-year-old, who is in pain? Perhaps even your parents or grandparents?

Now these ads are slick and understandably the marketing is designed to have the consumer gloss over the negatives – as with so many things, we hear what we want to hear…

Would you rather hear bad news or soft melodic music with an optimistic message of pain relief with pretty pictures ???

Is it really in OUR INTEREST to have so many drugs that have risks of serious side effects or even death, marketed directly to the consumer?
One drug regularly advertised on tv –Cymbalta –  an anti-depressant medication.
Among the Cymbalta warnings and precautions for this anti-depressant drug: “an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Isn’t suicidal behavior often …..   death?
In other words, watch it, this drug may kill you – but take it anyway because it won’t happen to you.
So let’s listen to part of the commercial for a sleep medication  – – – Belsamra

I’m asking you to just listen to this commercial – with this recording you won’t be able to be distracted by the playful soothing pictures that run with the commercial, BUT you will still hear the overlay of the music DESIGNED to distract you from warnings.

LISTEN CAREFULLY (sorry, no longer available)

The video and audio of the Belsomra commercial:


And of course, this is only one tip in a field of icebergs. Some claim that drug ads educate – I say they manipulate; drugs and drugs interactions are complicated, not something to be “learned” over the course of repeated 30-60 seconds ads so a TV viewer will request a drug while seeking some relief from pain.
I say prescription medications should NOT  be advertised on television!


Photo by Valerie Monroy,  https:///image/2485461/dea-host-national-prescription-drug-take-back