Advertisements for medications have been filling the pages of magazines ever since the first pharmaceutical companies have been synthesizing drugs. Since the late 1800’s, consumers have been exposed to medication advertised the same way that a company might push a new detergent to buyers. Heated debates have exploded in regards to drug advertisements, coming to head in recent years with attempts by government officials to limit the amount of ads that sell medication (“National Conference”).
While one may look back on drug advertisements from fifty years ago and laugh because they seem elementary, they influenced members of society and they continue to do so to this day. Despite the obvious positive affects of pharmaceutical drugs, the constant bombardment of drug advertising has a negative affect on consumers at large. All through history, there have been people destined to heal. A cornerstone of medicine, from the earliest shaman to the now graduating medical school class, has been the drugs used to treat illness.
The advent of modern medicine, beginning in 1938, has seen a major expansion of prescription drugs (Tomes 627). Because medication has become such a large part in most people’s lives, pharmaceutical businesses have evolved. Not only do medication companies care about profits, but also they are also concerned with the safety and effectiveness of their drugs. These companies need a way to get these compounds out of the public, and they accomplish this in a way not possible for other businesses. Big Pharma – the term used to refer to major drug companies – uses two different types of advertising to reach the public (Sidiqi).
What people see on the TV, the commercials for things such as Restless Leg Syndrome or Bipolar Disorder, is termed direct-to-consumer advertising, or simply DTCA. This is a common tactic for all businesses, including big pharma. However, unlike other products, medications are restricted in that they need to be prescribed by a physician. Everyone is able to go to the store to buy the new detergent on television, but not everyone can get the medication advertised on the television. Drug companies have a unique way of dealing with this problem – in addition to advertising to consumers, doctors are also targeted.
Physicians are approached in hospitals much like one is approached by a car salesman – high-pressure tactics, quick talking and glossing over negative facts while playing up the positive. Detail men – representatives of each individual pharmaceutical organization (Silverman)– have several ways in order to “sell” their drug to a physician. Free lunches, vacations and various office supplies inscribed with the drug company’s logos are used as gimmicks in an effort to make doctors “side” with a pharmaceutical company – therefore making the physician prescribe their medication over another.
With the advent of direct-to-consumer advertisement, people are constantly bombarded with messages and warning concerning their health. Seeing an ad for a new medication makes one contemplate their own health: “Am I eating well? ” or “Should I quit smoking? ” Although all forms of drug advertisements may have deleterious effects, DTCA may, with a small part of the population, serve to make people more aware of their health. With the arrival of websites such as WebMD, patients may also use the Internet in order to discover information significant to wellness.
Although most want pharmaceutical companies to run philanthropically, they are subject to the same follies of any other industry. Money runs countries and economies, and in order to stay afloat, the pharmaceutical industry must focus their attention to profits. While big pharma gets a return of 14% profit (compared to 5% for the majority of Fortune 500 companies), those extra profits are used for research into new medication, in essence, going right back to the consumer (Tomes 630). Scientists and researchers cost a lot – therefore, drug companies must financially support research into new lines of medication.
Most people work and live in such a way to attain better living conditions. The drive to increase wealth improves the medical community. Just like every market, drug companies try to make better products in order to out sell their competition – the idea being the best product “wins” in the market. If one medication is proven to be better than another, then the “losing” drug company will pour money into research to generate more sales. While new medications are being produced because of a laissez-fair market, many want government to step in. One of the biggest issues in this election year is socialized health care.
More people than ever are focusing on the health of the impoverished. On more and more medication commercials, one sees or hears things such as “Having trouble paying for your medications? Astra-Zeneca can help. ” Government officials, doctors and drug companies are beginning to cater to, and help save the lives of, the poor. Imagine for a moment, this scenario: A construction worker hurts herself outside the job. She does not quality for workman’s compensation because the accident did not occur on the clock, but she is in so much pain she cannot go back to work.
Sitting in the free clinic (she cannot afford anything better – her construction firm does not offer affordable health insurance), a doctor sees her into the room. The doctors leaves the room, after assuring her that her injury is not serious, with an armful of medication – anti-inflammatories, pain killers and muscle relaxers to help. Pharmaceutical companies hand out free medications to physicians in order to help sell their product (Goodman, 232). What’s the difference between Tide, a company that makes laundry detergent, and Lilly, a company that makes prescription medication?
One will get your clothes clean – the other will save your life. Drug companies demand that they be treated just as any other industry in regards to advertising to the public (“National Conference”). Big Pharma markets to both doctors and patients, trying to influence both to choose their medication over another. Both forms of advertising – pushing drugs on doctors and DTCA – are detrimental to public health and safety. Detail men are everywhere in the health care field. Walk into a hospital, a free clinic or a private doctors office, one thing remains the same – the tissue boxes, the pens and the clipboards.
All these simple office supplies are “donated” from a drug company, bearing their insignia. While one may think it is only the new doctors, the ones that are not well versed in medicine quite yet, are the only ones that will actually be swayed by detail men, study after study proves this false. All physicians, old and new, are susceptible to this phenomenon (Goodman, 236). The implications for this can be disastrous. A close look at Vioxx details what happens when doctors listen to drug companies and not science. The more money spent on a medication, the more likely the medication will be prescribed (Goodman 237).
Such is the case with Vioxx and Celebrex, a new class of anti-inflammatory drug called COX-2. Both of these drugs have lead to many deaths, massive recalls and suits from patients. Why would such a dangerous medication prescribed to patients? Shouldn’t the doctors know better? In 1999, the year that both drugs were released, a total of $4. 4 billion dollars was spent on advertising these drugs to both doctors and consumers. This advertising, “lead to overuse of these new and expensive drugs” (Schneider 140). Doctors and patients both accepted these new COX-2 medications, and there was no foresight into the dangers of this medication.
Advertising, coupled with apathetic doctors, lead to hundreds of deaths. DTCA has its pitfalls as well. The use of advertisements on the Internet, television and the radio has drastically changed the doctor-patient relationship (Weber 172). No longer do people go to the doctor for advice. Rather, after looking on WebMD and deciding they have X disease, and seeing on television a drug to treat said disease, the patient storms into the doctors office, demanding a medication for a self-diagnosed disease (Weber 172). A layman cannot doctor himself and expect a healthy, good result.
It leads only to misdiagnosis, unneeded medication and perhaps death. Stated earlier, drug companies have a fourteen percent profit margin, in contrast to Fortune 500 firms that make an average five percent profit. That means that drug companies make nine percent more in profits than some of the biggest companies in the world. Even one percent equals billions of dollars that pads the wallets of big pharma. Drugs are like candy in this country – “Americans apparently consume more prescription drugs than their counterparts in other developed nations, roughly twice as many per person as Europeans” (Tomes 630).
As well as consuming more prescription drugs that any other developed country by two fold, Americans are the last to support poor nations with drugs to treat “AIDS, malaria, and other deadly diseases” (Tomes 632). That extra nine percent – billions and billions of dollars in extraneous profit – could be used to further the health of, not only this country, but also the entire world. The construction worker mentioned earlier benefited from free drugs. She could not afford them, but thanks to the population’s altruistic friends at big pharma, she received them free.
Proponents would like people to believe this fallacy in order to keep their most successful way to advertise drugs – through doctors – alive. All social groups, not only the uninsured or poor, receive free medication. Experts have proven over and over that free medications does not help the poor as much as big pharma would like the public to believe (“Drug Samples,” “Free Drug Samples”). Pharmaceutical companies care only about patients when they are ill. This means big pharma wants more sick people, because sick people equal profit.
Medicine corporations, besides not helping the poor, target against them. Because they cannot pay for medication, “the patterns [the researchers] found indicate that pharmaceutical firms may be directing their samples to physicians and clinics least likely to care for the uninsured” (“Drug Samples”). The purpose of those free hand outs is simple. No company will ever distribute free product, especially when that product needs to come in installments to be effective. If a doctor has a few days worth of medication, he is more likely to prescribe that medication to the patient out of convenience for both.
For example, assume that someone comes into a doctor’s office with a cold, demanding relief. Whether or not the cold can be remedied by any medication (most colds are viral, and cannot be cured by antibiotics), the doctor, instead of educating the annoying, pushy patient, gives the him a box of medication in order to at least mentally sedate them. Free drugs are ways for pharmaceutical companies to get their medications prescribed. If a doctor has a box of a few pills to give to a patient in the office, he will prescribe the same medication (Wolfe 1).
If the medication is once-a-day for X amount of days, and the doctors picks the medication of which he has a sample, that equals quite a big profit for the company. The so-called philanthropic free medication is just another marketing ploy for increased profits. While modern medicine depends on the positive effects of pharmaceutical medication, the non-corporal influences of prescription drugs has a largely harmful effect on society as a whole. Advertising life or death can never have a positive outcome.
Drug companies manipulate the public in their advertising to doctors and patients. Next time you are at the doctor’s office, just think – has the treatment you are receiving been scripted by a man in a suit, offering your doctor a free lunch in exchanged for your health? Works Cited “Drug Samples Seen as Unlikely to Reach Poor or Uninsured. ” Medpage Today. 4 January 2008. 2 November 2008. <http://www. medpagetoday. com/ PublicHealthPolicy/HealthPolicy/7821>. “Free Drug Samples May Put Children at Risk. ” Medpage Today.
6 October 2008. 2 November 2008. <http://www. medpagetoday. com/Pediatrics/ GeneralPediatrics/11185>. Goodman, Bob. “Do Drug Company Promotions Influence Physician Behavior? ” West J Med 174. 4(2001): 232-233. National Conference of State Legislatures; the Forum for America’s Ideas. “Marketing and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising. ” 2008. 22 Sept. 2008 <http://ncsl. org/programs/health/rxads. htm>. Tomes, Nancy. “The Great American Medicine Show Revisted. ” Bull. Hist. Med. 79 (2005): 627 – 663. Sidiqi, Sarah.
“Letters to the Editor; Pharmaceutical Influence? ” The Nurse Practitioner 28. 5 (2003). Silverman, Milton, Philip R. Lee, and Mia Lydecker. “How the Drug Companies Kill One Million People a Year. ” July-Aug. 1982. University of California. 4 Nov. 2008 <http://multinationalmonitor. org/hyper/issues/1982/07/drug-companies. html>. Weber, Lenoard J. Profits Before People? Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006. Wolfe, Sidnye. “Drug Advertisements That Go Straight to the Hippocampus. ” Lancet 384. 9028 (1996): 632.