If you watch television for any amount of time, you’re probably going to see a drug commercial that tugs on your heart strings, promises to heal your worst medical conditions, and then a voiceover will quickly gloss over the multitude of side effects in a too-quick-to-understand string of monotone words. Prescription medications are are multi-BILLION dollar industry that’s making not only the pharmaceutical companies tons of money, but also the network television stations. How is this influencing public opinion AND health?
As we casually watch TV, we usually don’t think twice about these drug ads, but let’s take a glimpse behind the screen. Did you know that pharmaceutical advertising has soared 62 percent since 2012 and is projected to cost $610 billion by 2021? Worse yet, nine out of the 10 largest revenue-generating pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than they do on research and development (it appears that they care more about selling drugs than making sure that they are safe and effective). Equally concerning is that pharmaceutical advertising is banned in just about every country except the United States and New Zealand. And consider this: the average American watches 16 hours of pharmaceutical commercials each year which is more time than they spend with their primary physician. One-third of these people ask their doctors about a drug advertisement and most request a prescription.
Clearly this type of advertising in generating a huge response from the public, but it also is having an impact that consumers rarely think about: if these companies are paying television networks billions of dollars to advertise their drugs, would their news stations risk losing big money accounts by reporting negative information about the company? Public figure and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once shared that, “I ate breakfast last week with the president of a network news division and he told me that during non-election years, 70% of the advertising revenues for his news division come from pharmaceutical ads. And if you go on TV any night and watch the network news, you’ll see they become just a vehicle for selling pharmaceuticals. He also told me that he would fire a host who brought onto his station a guest who lost him a pharmaceutical account.”
I had a history professor say that products were made much better in the 1940’s and 50’s. For example, you could buy a toaster once and you’d never have to buy another one because it was made so well. The problem was that these quality products actually hurt revenue since it was a one time purchase. Nowadays, you buy a toaster, it breaks a few years later, and then you go back and buy another one. This same philosophy can be said for big pharma.
“Thanks to government protections [big pharma is] able to make their products more addicting and less effective so they can create return customers and extend their profits,” explains investigative journalist John Vibes. “If a medication is effective in curing a patient then they won’t continually use and purchase that drug because they will have no need to do so. However, if the drug is mediocre and has addictive properties then it will become a regular part of the patient’s monthly budget.”
Mass advertising is clearly one way to start this cycle of addiction. Furthering this point, just this month opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma announced that they are giving a $3.4 million grant to a non-profit company to help develop low-cost naloxone nasal spray, an antidote for those who overdose on opioids. So let’s get this straight: instead of creating preventative measures to reduce opioid usage and address the true underlying problems, they’re creating a drug to try and solve a major drug epidemic. Anyone else see the flaw in this thinking?
Every drug has its benefits and risks, and it’s time that we, as consumers, educate ourselves to make the best choices for our health. We need to read up on prospective medications, really talk to our doctors, and maybe, just maybe, turn the channel when that drug commercial comes on.