Big Discrepancy Between Drug Commercials and Reality

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Suzy-Cohen-1Dear Pharmacist,
As I watch TV, I notice a lot of commercials for drugs. The other night I found several drug commercials on every major network. What is going on, shouldn’t my doctor be telling me what I need, instead of the other way around?
W.V., Des Plaines, Illinois

Answer:  You’ve noticed the 3 billion dollar in-your-face commercial push, which targets the consumer and gets him to suggest, or demand a particular drug from the middleman, his doctor. One upside is that finally, consumers are learning more about their drug choices and becoming aware of disorders they didn’t know existed.

The downside is that TV ads cost an awful lot, and so your medication price goes up accordingly. Also, not everyone can take the drugs they see on TV. Consumers pressure doctors to prescribe these new, glorious-looking drugs, then get annoyed that they cost so much. When compared to drugs made famous by TV, you’ll see that older medications or generics are a fraction of the price.  But TV advertising is effective.  Pharmaceuticals boast returns of up to $4 on every dollar invested on ads. The visuals are obviously working.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a gross discrepancy between what you see happening on TV and what side effects could actually happen. My problem is that there’s a gross discrepancy in case you haven’t noticed. Pay close attention next time a drug ad comes on TV.  I’ll make up a scenario similar to one you see:
A happy couple running along the beach at sunset in Maui, while the announcer explains some disturbing side effect such as heart palpitations, vomiting or seizures. C’mon, wouldn’t it lend more truth in advertising if the commercials revealed these possible side effects instead of dancing around a Hawaiian luau? Like what if she stopped running along the beach, fell to her knees and threw up in the ocean.

Picture this. What if a long-awaited reunion at the airport turned sour as they were about to embrace. Imagine all this in slow motion. As she leaps to him, for that passionate kiss, he ducks into the bathroom, sweating, but just in time to deal with another bout of diarrhea.

How about that executive business lunch…where he develops hives then passes out right before he closes the deal, but fortunately before the check arrives! My point is, the commercials show consumers the glamorous benefits, but fail to depict the crucial details.

Healthcare professionals snicker when we watch these ads because the visuals don’t match up with the real life scenarios. It’s all TV, and definitely not a reality show.  There’s no debate that direct-to-consumer drug ads create big bucks for pharmaceutical companies.  But having the actors demonstrate potential side effects will never serve them. Sales may slip, do you think?