Prescription Drugs

  • Updated July 27, 2021
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It’s almost impossible to get through a day without seeing advertisements for one prescription drug or another. From Crohn’s Disease to chronic joint pain, ads for these drugs are everywhere. Despite our first amendment right of free speech, prescription drugs should not be advertised to consumers because money is prioritized over consumer health, the power to prescribe can be transferred from the medical professional to the advertising company or patient, and prescription drug ads have been shown to do more harm than good to the consumer.

Some may argue that all drug advertising isn’t deceptive and can even offer helpful information if you know what to look for according to Dr. Ameet Sarpatwari, instructor at Harvard Medical School (Harvard Men’s Health Watch). Some ads can help encourage necessary conversation with a medical professional or doctor, which can definitely be a good thing. That discussion may lead to exploration of other, nondrug treatment options for your condition that may be even better and cheaper (pars. 14-16). Drug advertisements can also bring awareness to issues that may not be so easily discussed such as suicide or depression.

By making them public conversation and showing that these illnesses are “common,” people may feel empowered to seek treatment they wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Drug Advertising is allowed because the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment “allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination” (Esmaili par. 3). The question is whether or not the information being shared is accurate and useful, or some type of tactic designed to create fear among consumers. Although arguments can be made supporting prescription drug advertisements, even the World Health Organization believes they are doing more harm than good (Lazarus pars.14-15).

Drug marketing is a lucrative industry and advertising companies are willing to spend big money to offer you an easy solution to a health problem you may or may not have. Between 2012 and 2015, there was a 120 percent increase on prescription drug advertising in all media outlets with the exception of digital (Do Not Get Sold par. 2). With such a large audience, consumer health has taken a back seat to profits. “The advertisements don’t often represent the best treatment or medication available,’ according to Joseph Ross, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University and the study’s lead researcher. ‘They’re selling products’ (Lazarus par. 4).

A key concern with advertising is that many drugs are geared towards complicated medical issues, and a one minute television or radio spot simply can’t provide all the relevant data necessary for an informed decision to be made. The ads are a part of the age of consumerism where people are consistently manipulated by what if scenarios and other scare tactics. This is this kind of marketing that is designed to convince people that they need pills or some other “thing” to survive this life. Going further the ads suggest specific pills that happen to be more expensive than generic alternatives. Although specific details vary, a CNBC report gathers statistics showing that medical bills are a leading cause of U.S. bankruptcies, estimating that 2 million people were adversely affected (The Balance).

Another study presented by former President Obama claimed that in 2009, there were 1.4 million bankruptcies. This claim sites a 2009 Harvard study coauthored by his assistant, Elizabeth Warren which credits 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies to medical bills (pars 1-4). Advertising is designed to seduce people into spending money and prescription drugs are a big-ticket item. Another effect of advertising is that the power of information is transferred from the medical professional to the advertising company or consumer. Unfortunately, this may take away from the doctor’s authority to decide what’s best for the patient. The doctor, the expert in this scenario, may feel compelled to offer a certain drug because of pressures from the patient or recommendations from a drug manufacturer.

According to Charlie Ornstein, a senior editor for the independent, non-profit newsroom ProPublica, ‘it’s illegal to give kickbacks to a doctor to prescribe drugs, but it is legal to give money to doctors to help promote your drug.” There are doctors who can double, triple, even quadruple their salary by working with the industry to suggest specific medications (Cochran pars. 1-4). Patients may also request certain drugs because they have been convinced by clever marketing. Doctors don’t want to lose patients and it may be faster to write out a prescription than it is to try to talk with them and convince them that he or she may have been manipulated by advertising. When patients seek advice from a doctor or medical professional there is a level of trust that they will receive the best medication for them and their condition; but there are competing interests out there that the doctor has to consider while prescribing these drugs (par 5). Marketing and drug advertisements should not be a consideration.

Prescription drug ads have been shown to do more harm than good to the consumer. This is evidenced by the fact that The United States and New Zealand are the only countries where drug makers are allowed to market prescription drugs directly to consumers (Do Not Get Sold par 4). Many medical advocacy groups believe that drug companies and their direct-to-consumer advertising put consumers at a disadvantage and for good reason. The FDA has no control over the amount of money companies spend on advertising; and it is not permitted to ban ads for drugs that have serious risks. This gives the advertiser free reign to market in a deceitful way. Companies do not have to provide exact details on way their drug works, how much it costs to purchase or produce, or indicate whether or not there’s a generic drug alternative with fewer risks (par 8).

Another issue is that commercials fail to include quantitative information about the side effects of a drug, which keeps the consumer from looking at a more complete picture of the possible risks to their health. Legislation is underway that could allow drug companies to market their product for uses that haven’t been verified or vetted by the FDA. These are called off-label uses and while some of these are well-studied and have been a part of routine medical practice for years, many other off-label uses have not. An example of this would be an antidepressant being advertised as a treatment for insomnia or diabetes medication helping with weight loss (Lazarus par 19). Currently unverified uses are not able to be used as a part of a sales pitch, but may still be depicted or represented within an ad.

Cipro is advertised as a medicine used to treat common conditions such as urinary tract infections and respiratory illnesses however the drug carries a black box label warning that list side effects up to and including death. These are not mentioned as a part of the advertisements. The more recent influx of expensive brand-name drugs is also often cited as a factor for rising health care costs. Prescription drugs accounted for nearly 17% of total health care spending in 2015, a number that was in single digits in the 1990s (Do Not Get Sold pars. 9-10). The increased costs lead to higher insurance premiums, copays, etc. which ultimately affect everyone’s ability to maintain their health. Prescription drug advertising in this light can seem counterintuitive.

There are many reasons why prescription drugs should not be offered to consumers. Money has taken priority over consumer health, the power to prescribe has been shifted to the advertising companies or patients, and prescription drug ads have been shown to do more harm than good to the consumer. All in all, the major key is to realize that drug advertisements should be regarded as nothing more than what they are – advertisements. And as with any other product, the goal is sales. ‘The information is designed to tell you what it is for and why you need it—but not if you need it’ (Do Not Get Sold par 13).

Cite this paper

Prescription Drugs. (2021, Jul 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/prescription-drugs/

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