I was heartened today to see this article announcing that the FDA is going to start studying whether “relaxing, upbeat images featured in TV drug ads distract consumers from warnings about the drugs’ risks.”
According to the article, drug companies in the US spent $29.9 billion on advertising in 2005 – up 330% from a decade earlier. New Zealand is the only other industrialized country that allows drug advertising. So I guess we live in one of only two countries where pharmaceutical profits are more valued than the health of the population. I’ve written about our relatively poor rankings on life expectancy charts, despite spending more money per capita on health care than any other country in the world. Perhaps it’s not such a conundrum at all -maybe we’re getting exactly the results we’re aiming for – a wealthy health care industry, with the health of the population a distant second place.
Prescription drugs are toxic. Even aspirin will do you in if you take too many. That’s why we have child-proof lids and warning labels on the bottles. Pharmacists go through years of training to understand how drugs react in the human body and how they interact with other drugs. Prescription medications are not candy and should not dispensed as if they are. That said, there are plenty of people who owe their lives to prescription drugs, and their benefits should not be underestimated.
However, advertising drugs on TV, nestled between the cereal and mortgage ads, is ridiculous. And common sense tells us that of course people are more swayed by the warm fuzzy images in the ad than they are by the verbal warnings in the background. The ads are made to sell drugs, and the pharmaceutical companies have talented marketers designing their ads – why would they want to highlight the warnings and side effects, when the result might be fewer people asking their doctor for the drug?
By advertising drugs on TV, we have taken medicine out of the realm of science and put it into the world of Madison Avenue retail. And we wonder why we spend so much money on health care and yet have such an ailing population.