Feeling Side Effects From TV Drug Ads

One-time presidential candidate John Edwards is gone for good due to a particularly outrageous sex scandal. But I have to give credit where credit is due. Edwards was the one and only politician, or person of any kind, whom I have ever heard make any statement about the advertising of pharmaceuticals on television. It could not have been a much shorter statement. He said these ads have gotten way out of hand, or brief words to that effect. And he was right, to say the very least.

There was a time when you could turn on a TV and not be presented with the surreal experience of watching smiley-faced models frolicking while a voice-over delivers a list of drug side effects that could practically cause side effects by itself. My current favorite is a drug that may cause skin rashes that are sometimes lethal. I’d just as soon leave most illnesses untreated if if meant I could avoid a lethal skin rash. And it seems just about everything causes “suicidal thoughts or actions.” Fatal liver failure and four-hour erections are run-of-the-mill.

The list of side effects take up most of the commercial. It’s true that the drug makers are required by the government to list any side effects that have ever emerged, and we’re lucky that it’s not like the 19th century when anyone could make any kind of a medical claim in advertising. Still you have to wonder why they bother to run some of these ads. But it gets better. Because you, humble viewer, are expected to be a veritable professor of medical science. You are told that you should not take Xylveestiglomobobule if you have sensitivity to certain GMCDNs or a family history of fungal overload in the lining of the emglabattick glands. In other words, while you’re sitting there watching “Real Swamp Cretins,” be sure to keep a spiral notebook handy to jot down the life-and-death pharmacological instructions on these commercials.

Then comes the “Tell Your Doctor” part, and we get to the nub of the matter. Tell your doctor what to prescribe. Wasn’t it the doctor who went to medical school all those years? We are supposed to enlighten him as to the wonders of some drug, or at least how happy it made the models on the TV ad? The scary part is that it must be working brilliantly for these drug companies, because the ads are running ’round the clock, and have been for more years than I know. Apparently plenty of doctors are prescribing the brands that their patients tell them about. The doctors are getting their own ads, of course, but what we’re talking about is commercials aimed at patients. I can imagine that the industry would claim that these (massive) ad campaigns are merely to boost the image of their products with the public. Though you have to wonder how that will be achieved with all the talk of renal failure and paralysis and suicidal thoughts. I’m thinking the pay-off for the drug makers is in having people tell their doctor what they want him to prescribe.

It’s a fact that Americans are living longer than ever before, and part of the credit goes to the pharmaceuticals industry. And the drug companies get plenty of unfounded malarkey thrown at them from anti-psychiatry cults and alternative medicine true believers. What remains fascinating, in the face of the overwhelming presence of drug ads in our lives, is how rarely anyone ever mentions any possible problem with them. Have you ever heard any of the points in this blog post raised anywhere else?

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