Drug Ads: Didactic or Deceptive?

While browsing the May 20, 2009 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), I thought it would be interesting to count the number of pharmaceutical ads. This well-respected journal is written exclusively for medical physicians and researchers. The final count – 4.

I compared this number to common American magazines. The current issue of Southern Living had 6 drug ads. Good Housekeeping – 7 drug ads. Ladies Home Journal – 16 drug ads… and the winner, Family Circle – 20 drug ads. I can promise you that the target demographic for these magazines is not medical doctors!

Then I discovered that the Magazine Publishers of America openly encourages these DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) type ads. Their website states, “Studies have shown that DTC advertising enhances communications between physicians and patients, raises public awareness about undiagnosed diseases, and informs patients about the benefits and risks of using prescription drugs to treat medical conditions.”

As a health care provider who reviews patients’ lists of medications, I have met very few people who actually discussed the risks/benefits of taking medication with their medical doctors.

If I could reword the MPA’s statement on drug ads, it would say: “Studies have shown that DTC advertising enhances profitability among drug companies, raises public dependency on medication, and misinforms patients about the risks of using prescription drugs to treat symptoms.”

If people actually pulled out a magnifying glass to read the fine print, they’d think twice before taking these drugs. That’s because side effects like glaucoma, myocardial infarction, impotence, uncontrollable anal leakage, and death have a way of changing peoples’ minds about taking pharmaceuticals. They’re real party-poopers. So that’s why it’s written in teeny-tiny letters, tucked under complicated charts and squeezed between medical verbiage that the average person can’t decipher.

The only people legally allowed to give you these drugs are medical physicians. They’re qualified to know when and when not to prescribe them… And yet drug companies are spending less money advertising in the journals these doctors read, and pumping gobs of money into the magazines read by Joe Public. How much you ask? Over $5 Billion dollars per year (double the net worth of Donald Trump).

I have to applaud Time Magazine for only allowing one drug ad in this week’s issue. They published this article, Do Consumers Understand Drugs Ads?, and obviously stand by their beliefs. If you have time, watch the 98-second video in the middle of the page about deceptive drug commercials. It’s quite informative.

Women’s eNews suggests that, “These commercials may pose a hazard to women’s health.”

I’ve long told my patients that nutritional supplements advertised on TV or sold through the mail aren’t worth buying. I also believe that the very best medications don’t have to be advertised.

I never watch/read drug ads for educational purposes. Instead, they’re sources of entertainment. I get a chuckle out of the clever new ways drug companies reword disgusting and dangerous side effects. They’ll never convince me otherwise… and my hope is that you too will start questioning their motives.

P.S. – Here’s a funny SNL skit mocking drug ads.

3 Comments

Which actually beckons the question ‘WHY do we not see chiropractic commercials or national print ads??’
Honestly… I’ve been doing my research on the profession and noticed that chiropractors make up the 3rd largest profession in the country after MDs and Dentists…. it is unacceptable to me that it is the most misunderstood profession. The service they provide to humanity is humble, noble, and continually rejected because for some reason it is not well known. A chiropractor spends just as much money on education as any healthcare authority and is continually treated like a step child. Guess what.. they aren’t going anywhere. The sooner people discover them and incorporate them into their lifestyle the better off they would be.

Sophia, thanks for the comment. There is a new organization within chiropractic that’s working to enhance the public image of our profession through print media and TV commercials. Here’s a link for more information: http://www.yes2chiropractic.com

Yes. I saw them at the Vegas 2009 Parker. I personally approached them and thanked them for their efforts and offered any help they need. She wanted $$
Another organaization is what we don’t need. We need action, and real results. Sure, they are new, and have to start somewhere and I am hoping for the best! I know celebrities love their chiropractors and would probably volunteer to say a short “I love my chiropractor” Hell, Obama would probably even say it. Here’s hoping!

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