Drug Ads: Taking Medicine Never Looked So Good
Remember all those tricks drugmakers used to get you to take medicine as a kid? They made cough syrup sweet and acetaminophen chewable. They transformed horse pill vitamins into friendly cartoon characters.
Well, perhaps a better approach would've been to inundate you with ads--ones that depict a fearful and alone child who becomes happy, confident and popular after taking a pill.
That formula, it seems, works well on millions of Americans, who watch as many as 16 hours of prescription drug ads every year -- far more than the average time spent with a primary care physician.
Since the Food and Drug Administration relaxed restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising 10 years ago, commercials touting prescription cures for everything from insomnia to heart burn to erectile dysfunction have become ubiquitous, if not any less mysterious. (I never understand what any of those medicines do, except potentially provoke the gross list of side effects muttered at lightening speed at the end of the ad.)
Direct-to-consumer ads cost Big Pharma $1.19 billion in 2005, up from $654 million in 2001.
The question is, do all those ads help consumers make health care decisions or are they just convincing people they need treatments for conditions they don't have?
Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler thinks prescription drug ads are causing us to overmedicate. In an editorial that accompanied the study, he offered sleeping pills as an example. One-third of direct-to-consumer ad spending in 2005 was on sleep medications, yet sleep disorders are no where near a major cause of death in the United States the way heart disease and cancer are. He also cited a 2002 FDA survey of doctors, which found that 41 percent believed such ads don't help to inform consumers but actually give them bad information.
Given the importance of ads in health-care decisions, a group of researchers lead by Dominick L. Frosch, of the University of California - Los Angeles Department of Medicine, chose to dissect four weeks worth of prescription drug ads from 2004. Their findings are in the latest issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.
Some nuggets from the report:
- 86 percent of the ads made rational pitches for a drug but only about a quarter described the condition's causes, risk factors and prevalence. When ads did refer to prevalence, they used vague terms such as "millions."
- 95 percent made emotional appeals by framing medication use in terms of losing and regaining control and winning social approval. (Picture once-beleaguered allergy sufferers running merrily, nostrils flared, through a weed-filled field.)
- None of the ads mention lifestyle change as an alternative to products, though some -- 19 percent -- mentioned it as an adjunct to medication. And 18 percent of ads made lifestyle changes seem futile, such as an ad that featured a woman who ran three miles every day and ate 50-calorie salads for lunch but whose cholesterol was 277 mg/dL.
- More than half the ads show people engaging in moderate physical activity -- the one silver lining in the study.
"Portrayal of healthy lifestyles in the ads... may offer some public health benefits" by promoting the benefits of physical activity, the authors noted.
In response to criticism of aggressive prescription drug marketing, especially following the flurry of lawsuits filed over the heavily promoted painkiller Vioxx, some pharmaceutical companies have volunteered to wait a year after a drug is approved to begin advertising, but the study's authors say that's not enough. They need to address the content of the ads, too.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association responded to the study more specifically yesterday saying such advertising "empowers patients," and increases "people's awareness of diseases and available treatments." The trade group also noted that it came out with guidelines for direct-to-consumer ads that address some of the study's concerns. Those took effect in January 2006, but the study doesn't reflect changes made by drugmakers since then because it only looked at ads from 2004.
Has anyone noted an improvement in prescription drug ads? Or do the study's findings still resonate with what you see? More importantly, do you feel like you've learned valuable health information after watching Abe Lincoln sitting around a kitchen table talking to a beaver?
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Chris | January 30, 2007 12:20 PM
Posted by: Chris | January 30, 2007 12:25 PM
Posted by: Michelle | January 30, 2007 12:35 PM
Posted by: not drugged | January 30, 2007 1:13 PM
Posted by: Jake Steeley | January 30, 2007 1:29 PM
Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | January 30, 2007 1:34 PM
Posted by: Lizzy | January 30, 2007 1:34 PM
Posted by: Chris | January 30, 2007 1:39 PM
Posted by: Lee Kent Hempfling | January 30, 2007 2:01 PM
Posted by: Donna | January 30, 2007 2:06 PM
Posted by: Burnley Wilkins | January 30, 2007 2:09 PM
Posted by: Jack K. | January 30, 2007 2:15 PM
Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2007 2:27 PM
Posted by: news reader | January 30, 2007 2:29 PM
Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | January 30, 2007 2:32 PM
Posted by: Chris | January 30, 2007 2:34 PM
Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | January 30, 2007 2:39 PM
Posted by: field | January 30, 2007 2:40 PM
Posted by: Rajesh Kumar | January 30, 2007 3:00 PM
Posted by: Ron Garrett | January 30, 2007 3:03 PM
Posted by: WMA | January 30, 2007 3:32 PM
Posted by: Elise | January 30, 2007 3:45 PM
Posted by: Elise | January 30, 2007 3:51 PM
Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 30, 2007 4:20 PM
Posted by: Brian | January 30, 2007 4:25 PM
Posted by: CyanSquirrel | January 30, 2007 4:26 PM
Posted by: bkp | January 30, 2007 4:30 PM
Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2007 4:55 PM
Posted by: Chris Larson | January 30, 2007 5:03 PM
Posted by: Dirk Hanson | January 30, 2007 5:45 PM
Posted by: Chris Schultz | January 30, 2007 6:26 PM
Posted by: Doug Hardie | January 30, 2007 6:43 PM
Posted by: Nathan | January 30, 2007 6:56 PM
Posted by: Blackwell | January 30, 2007 7:44 PM
Posted by: poppins | January 30, 2007 9:35 PM
Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2007 10:55 PM
Posted by: Chris | January 31, 2007 8:13 AM
Posted by: xxx dvd | February 5, 2007 3:39 AM
Posted by: adult dvd | February 5, 2007 3:55 AM
Posted by: porn dvd | February 5, 2007 4:42 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.