So many have written about this subject, I wonder if I will touch on anything that hasn't already been expressed. Still, I am compelled to deal with the topic because advertising plays such a significant role in influencing people's attitudes about their health.
Television is flooded with pharmaceutical advertisements. I recently heard a radio personality claim that 55% of commercials airing on TV now are for prescription medications. I have fruitlessly scoured the Internet for verification of this number, but I recall my reaction to that number wasn't surprise or disbelief. It was more a sad acceptance that it may be true. Every day we are bombarded with TV, radio, print and web advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat countless conditions.
Medicines clearly are critical to the health and well-being of the human race. Pharmaceutical manufacturers spend tens of millions on R&D for many drugs that never receive FDA approval. So when they bring a drug to market, they need to reap the financial rewards for the life of the patent and beyond to fill the coffers to fund development of new remedies.
My concern isn't with drugs that deal with real diseases and afflictions like cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hodgkin’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, autism, and hundreds of others that affect a significant percentage of the population. I take issue with pharmaceutical manufacturers that create new elixirs, or remix or reposition an existing drug (sometimes just after the patent has expired) to treat obscure or rare syndromes or disorders. You’ve seen and heard the advertisements for these products. Analyzed with a careful read, an acute ear and a keen mind has to make one question the legitimacy of the problem being addressed and the potential size of the universe being served.
This is the first entry in a series of posts dealing with this controversial and emotionally-charged topic. I intend to look at the issue holistically, and consider the attitudes, roles and responsibilities of the major players; specifically, pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians, government and consumers. Naturally, I will take up the role of advertising, and the responsibilities of the agency in shaping people’s understanding of the products and the health issues they address.
Can I deftly discuss this topic without eliciting an angry response (perhaps several)? Probably not. Should be fun, and hopefully, educational.
Check back real soon for the next post…it’s almost finished.