Rid the airwaves of pharmaceutical advertising


On February 18, 2014 the Food and Drug Administration indicated their consideration to allow pharmaceutical companies to shorten the list of possible side effects seen by millions everyday and night in pharmaceutical ads and commercials.

In recent years, citizens — patients and consumers — have been bombarded with numerous and lengthy televised commercials in which pharmaceutical companies push their medicinal wares. It’s called “direct-to-consumer” advertising (DTC).

Such DTC efforts work for detergents, electronics, intimate apparel and fast food, so (pharma executives surmised) why not medications? Patients can see alluring ads, become more aware of prescription medications, learn their names and petition their physicians to prescribe them. Just like that. Practically every other aspect of the direct doctor-patient relationship, and the purity of medical practice, has been invaded, why not the doctor’s role to determine and prescribe the best medication for patients?

The FDA first approved DTC advertising of prescription medications in 1983, but the American Medical Association, physicians and others fought against it. The ads stopped for a few years, but in 1995, the FDA re-approved DTC advertising with the requirement that side effects must be included in the broadcast commercials and print ads.

That permission continues today, and millions of TV viewers and magazine readers are barraged day and night with a bevy of prescription medication ads. Now  in 2014, the FDA has determined that patients are basically “tuning out” the warnings — no one’s listening — and hence the FDA may suggest the ads be shortened with respect to the warnings. About the lengthy list of warnings, ABC News reporter Linsey Davis said, “The list themselves may induce side effects, like, makes your eyes glaze over.”

Why not rid the airwaves of pharmaceutical advertising all together? Why do we even have pharmaceutical ads on TV? Do we need them?

Patients can’t prescribe their own medicine. They really don’t know every nuance of every medication they might seek. Besides, how much money do those ads cost? For sure DTC advertising comprises a huge portion of pharmaceutical companies’ overhead, which, in turn, is passed on to the consumer-patients.

According to the infographic, Over-Medicated America, “The pharmaceutical industry spent 2x more on marketing than research and development …”

They add: “Merck had a 65.2% profit increase since 2008, and cut its R&D spending by $368 million last quarter.”

Completely omit the DTC advertising in all formats: broadcast, print and online. That will clearly decrease overhead, and those savings can be passed on to the patients who need medications.

Insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have so raped the medical profession. Return it to doctors and patients. Television and magazine ads have no place in prescribing medications. It’s up to medical doctors to prescribe the medications deemed best for patients; we don’t need patients being seduced by fancy advertising to nudge us to prescribe what will be best to treat the patient.

Our noble profession has been overtaken by big business, and it makes me sick.

Melody T. McCloud is an obstetrician-gynecologist, public speaker and author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers and Living Well, Despite Catching Hell: The Black Woman’s Guide to Health, Sex and Happiness.  She can be reached on her self-titled site, Melody T. McCloud, MD and on Twitter @DrMelodyMcCloud.


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