In some recent Blogs, I’ve ranted and railed against the collusion between Big Pharma and the FDA, about how Big Pharm preys on peoples’ fears, and how aggressively they market their products.
I thought I’d talk about some of the most common ways in which they prey on your fears. In a recent Blog, I talked about the recent evolution in commercials where it seems impossible to avoid commercials about “why you should ask your doctor” about a particular drug. These commercials are usually all about making sure that happy people are shown either in live action or in animation, benefiting from the next “wonder drug.” The only thing you need to do is watch the commercial, be inspired by the happy people depicted, and “ask your doctor,” . . . . blah, blah, blah.
This is unconscionable and ridiculous. It shouldn’t even be permitted for drug companies to advertise on TV. The only way the drugs should be prescribed is after they’ve been thoroughly and completely researched and vetted, rendered safe regardless of the politics, regardless of the relationship between the drug company and the FDA, regardless of bribes of the FDA by the drug companies. Then doctors should have the decision as to whether or not they want to bring these drugs up to their patients. The doctors should be able to make this decision without drug representatives swarming, sliming and bribing them with gifts, dinners and who knows what else.
How do drug companies prey on your fears?
1. Fear of Aging and Losing Sex Appeal.
HRT – Hormone Replacement Therapy – which millions of women took until about 10 years ago – was officially marketed to stop “hot flashes” and keep bones “strong.” Unofficially, it was marketed as a way of staying “young and sexy.”
Early HRT ads told women they had “outlived their ovaries” and not kept up with their husbands, who of course wanted younger looking women. When HRT was found to increase the risk of heart attacks and cancer (sorry about that!), bone drugs took up Pharma’s “don’t get old” message to women, pushed by former Today show host Meredith Vieira, former Charlie’s Angels star Cheryl Ladd and actress Sally Field. Now Big Pharma is telling men that they also need hormone replacement therapy to keep up with their wives, because of their “low ‘T'” (testosterone) and to retain their “sexiness.” Male HRT is no safer than that for women.
2. Fear of Symptoms That Seem Benign.
Once upon a time, people with heartburn took Tums, Alka-Seltzer, Bromo-Seltzer or Maalox and vowed not to eat so much. They didn’t worry that they really had Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), were on their way to cancer of the esophagus and would have to take proton pump inhibiters for the rest of their lives.
Similarly, while depression can bring unimaginable suffering, it’s also true that regular grief – the blues over problems with marriage, family, job, financial situations and even the loss of a loved one – is a normal part of life. But Big Pharma’s marketing suggests that you should go immediately running to your doctor the second you feel “bad” and get “hooked” on “happy pills” for a decade or more.
I remember as a kid reading “Brave New World” and being horrified at the idea that an entire population could be hooked “Soma,” the drug in the book meant to make people feel better (and forget the fact that they were living in an oppressive society). I thought that was science fiction. Guess what? There is a drug called “Soma” for depression, and Big Pharma is constantly terrifying people that if they feel depression they have to “stop it” immediately with dangerous drugs that include a list of side effects 25 items long (including death!).
3. Fear of New Diseases.
Does everyone remember “shift-work sleep disorder” and “non-24-hour-sleep-wake disorder” for people who probably didn’t get enough sleep?
Obscure diseases that Big Pharma “raises awareness” about are not made up, but they are so incredibly rare that they would never be advertised unless Big Pharma were trying to create “demand” for expensive drugs by hyping the disease.
They’re especially fond of doing this when the disease is “syndromic” and when there is thus no confirming lab or blood test to support a diagnosis. Recently, North Chicago based AbbVie rolled out two high budget drug campaigns to convince people with sore backs that they have “ankylosing spondylitis” and people with diarrhea that they had “exocrine pancreatic insufficiency,” replete with websites helping them discern that they have the disease based on their symptoms.
Do people with symptom or diseases really need Big Pharma to tell them when to go to the doctor?