This story might seem amusing, if it were not frightening. More than anything, it’s an indication of the power of Direct-To-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) for prescription medications. These are the ads that always end with “Ask your doctor about…”, and drug companies spend billions on them every year.In 2008, the drug companies spent $4.34 billion on this type of advertising, and one study found that every $1 the pharmaceutical industry spends on DTCA yields an additional $2.20 in drug sales.

That’s an excellent Return On Investment (ROI), but the drug companies would like us to believe that their only reason for advertising is to keep the customer healthy. The website of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) actually contains this laughable description of DTCA advertising:

DTC advertising increases people’s awareness of disease and available treatments. Studies show DTC advertising brings patients into their doctors’ offices and starts important doctor-patient conversations about health that might not take place.”

One conversation that would not have occurred without all those ads took place between a mother and her child. A staff member in our office has a friend who has a 7-year old son, and when the mother was driving her son to a routine doctor’s appointment, he asked her if he should discuss Lipitor with the doctor.

Lipitor is a statin drug used to lower cholesterol levels. It has links to many serious side effects, including muscle weakness and slurred speech, but the 7-year old could just as easily have been asking his mother about Abillify, Prozac, or any of a hundred other dangerous drugs that he’s seen advertised on TV.

The boy’s mother explained to him that he has no need for Lipitor, but his awareness of the drug is an indication of the effectiveness of DCTA and of the drug industry’s efforts to promote the belief in everyone that a pill is the solution for every ill.

DTCA has at least three goals. The first and most obvious is to make people think that they’re sick so they’ll ask their doctors for more drugs. Now, consumers suggest drug treatment to their doctors and go away angry if the doctor won’t write a prescription.

The second goal is to make all the people believe that they need a drug for every human problem, whether it’s a physical illness or a normal human behavior like the symptoms of ADD.

The third goal is to develop new customers, like this conscientious 7-year old. Marketers know that if they develop customers when they’re young, they’ll have loyal buyers for life. So, for the drug marketers, nothing is a better sign of successful work than a 7-year old who’s concerned about Lipitor. He’s highly likely to go through life believing that he needs to take a pill whenever he feels any pain or discomfort.

DTCA became legal in 1997, and it has increased prescription drug use and corporate profits substantially. The average number of prescriptions used by each American has risen by 71 percent over the last 17 years. It’s now 12 prescriptions a year, compared with seven in 1992.

But no statistics show that Americans’ health has increased since 1997, and the ads never mention the personal injuries and wrongful deaths that result from the rising number of prescriptions. In the third quarter of 2009, for example, the FDA received 29,065 case reports of adverse drug reactions, an increase of 8.4% over the same quarter one year earlier.

DTCA is a powerful marketing tool, but the products that it promotes are causing frightening numbers of personal injuries and wrongful deaths. And, as the pharmaceutical companies show through their illegal marketing practices, coverups of damaging research, and manipulation of test results, it’s almost impossible to fell safe about any prescription medicine.
Big Pharma wants you to buy more drugs. Just ask your doctor. And if any drug has caused personal injury to you talk to one of the dangerous drug attorneys in our office.
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Richard Alexander