Prior to 1997, pharmaceutical companies could only market directly to doctors. When the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration allowed television ads for prescription drugs, budgets swung towards Direct To Consumer (DTC) ads. The annual advertising spend is $6 billion. Why? Because the ads work so well, helping prescription drug sellers post nearly $500 billion in sales last year.
Pharmaceutical companies were given permission to advertise directly to consumers when they promised to educate them by presenting the pros and cons in a fair and balanced manner. They also agreed to be bound by regulations designed to ensure their ads are truthful, accurate, and do not minimize the risks associated with taking the drug.
FDA studies say 8 out of 10 physicians believe their patients understand the benefits of advertised drugs very well, while only half as many believe their patients understand the risks. This is hardly the balanced viewpoint they promised.
What is happening?
Pharmaceutical companies are selling the illusion that there is a pill for whatever ails us. This type of marketing contributes to a medical culture where patients seek fast, convenient fixes in the form of self-identified prescription drug remedies.
- The National Institutes of Health say “Direct To Consumer marketing of prescription drugs is a practice bordering on unethical behavior by pharmaceutical companies that have placed a higher priority on profit than on the overall well being of the patient.”
- Kellogg Insights says “Some argue that drugmakers use DTC ads mainly to steal business from rivals. This results in a costly arms race that guides consumers toward one of several negligibly differing, expensive branded drugs over equally effective generics. At the extreme, that line of argument supports banning DTC ads.”
How well are drugmakers helping to inform us?
The Associated Press reported “pharmaceutical companies made up eight of the government’s top 10 fraud settlements in the last year.”
To read more about prescription drug ads, read my article Try This Experiment At Home. For a comparison of today’s medical culture with the anti-pharmaceutical attitudes of the Sixties Counterculture, watch this video of Jefferson Airplane, a psychedelic band from those days.