What Can You Buy with Four Billion Dollars?

I read an article today entitled, Selling Sickness: How Drug Ads Changed Healthcare. It revealed an interesting statistic… Four billion dollars per year is spent in the US on drug ads.

If four billion doesn’t sound like that big of a number, let me help put this amount into perspective for you. If your annual salary was $40,000 per year, it would take you 100,000 years to earn enough money to buy that kind of advertising. The combined advertising dollars spent by Google, Coca-Cola and Starbucks, is still a billion dollars less than these pharmaceutical companies.

The Nielsen Co. estimates that on a daily basis, an average of 80 drug ads are displayed each hour on American television. That’s over 700,000 TV commercials per year convincing you to “ask your doctor” for drugs!

The question I have is… Why is this necessary? Americans spend more on health care than 190 other countries. With the highest number of doctors and hospitals in the world, shouldn’t we have this whole “Medicine” thing in the bag by now?

You’d think so… but a report from the World Health Organization says otherwise. WHO pinned the 37th Place ribbon on America for overall health, above Slovenia and Cuba. Shameful, in my opinion.

So where did things go wrong? I think the part of the problem stems from allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers. Prior to the 1980’s, this wasn’t allowed by the FDA, mainly because no one really thought patients could understand the complicated lingo of pharmaceutical science.

But a slick-talking ad-man came up with an industry-changing idea. Why not go against the grain and market directly to the patients? They hoped to earn $34 million dollars from this crazy new approach. $800 million dollars later, they knew they were on to something.

Writing today’s blog post reminded me of a conversation I had with a highly respected pediatrician here in St Louis about 12 years ago. He acknowledged the drug-ad problem and felt Americans were severely over-medicated. He said, “I’ve been practicing over 30 years. During the first half of my career, patients never demanded medication. But now, that’s all they want… and if I don’t give it to them, they’ll just hop around from doctor to doctor until they get it. They’re going to get it from somebody, so I have no other choice but to meet the demand.”

According to ProCon.org, only two countries in the world legally allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise “direct-to-consumer” – USA & New Zealand (NZ ranks 41st on the list).

I’ve always felt that the most effective drugs don’t have to be advertised. Think about it… When was the last time you saw a TV commercial for any brand of antibiotics? And have you ever seen a TV commercial for novocaine or morphine?

Instead, the ads you see are targeting people suffering from conditions like depression, anxiety, and obesity… and none of the drugs actually “cure” the problem.

But they do create life-long customers, and that’s what you can buy with four billion dollars.


Good response. I read the article myself, and I’d recommend checking out a documentary on the subject, “Big Bucks, Big Pharma,” which you can watch for free online. Both are real eye-openers.

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