“Are you experiencing crushing chest pain with shortness of breath? Are you sweating profusely? You could be having a heart attack! Ask your doctor whether Zycrox is right for you.”

Would an ad like that sound preposterous? We have to admit that Zycrox is a figment of our imaginations. But the idea of advertising a medication for a serious condition like a heart attack is not so farfetched.

Plavix is advertised to consumers even though this heavy-duty drug is prescribed to prevent life-threatening blood clots that could cause a heart attack or a stroke. Sales have soared since people started watching Plavix commercials on TV.

TV commercials have touted everything from drug-coated stents for clogged coronary arteries to potent anemia drugs like Procrit for cancer patients on chemotherapy. Before prescription drug advertising came to dominate prime time television, TV drug ads featured over-the-counter products. If you asked a physician from that era whether he could imagine a patient asking for a prescription drug seen on a TV commercial, he would have laughed in your face.

Doctors spend years in medical school learning about the benefits and risks of medications and devices such as drug-coated stents. The notion that a patient could request a powerful prescription medicine based on a 30-second TV spot would have seemed ludicrous. Today, of course, it is commonplace. You can’t watch the evening news without seeing several prescription drug ads.

Most people tell us they hate TV drug ads. They especially hate ads for prescription drugs to treat erectile dysfunction or overactive bladder. But they also dislike commercials for drugs that lower cholesterol, control blood sugar or ease arthritis pain. Many ask us why the FDA permits such ads at all, even though few realize that only one other industrialized country allows direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.

FDA’s authority to regulate drug ads goes back to a 1962 act of Congress. Drug advertising must not be false and misleading, and it must offer a “fair balance” of benefit and risk information.

Until the 1980s, drug companies assumed they couldn’t use television to advertise prescription drugs: 30-second ads are too short to allow the listing of all the possible negative effects of a drug. Then the FDA decided that broadcast ads could cover only the “major risk information.” In practice TV ads cover many fewer side effects than print ads (New England Journal of Medicine, May 22, 2008).

The pharmaceutical industry likes to frame prescription drug ads as educating the consumer, but in fact they generate big bucks. Ten of the top 12 brand-name drugs advertised to consumers rake in more than $1 billion a year.

The industry’s other argument is that commercials are protected as free speech. We wonder if that is what John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other founding fathers had in mind.

The only way consumers could have an effect on such television commercials would be to contact their Congressional representatives. A Congressional hearing in May investigated misleading ads about prescription drugs. Unless Congress changes the law, the FDA has no power to make the industry change its ways.

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  1. Liz

    Well, I am very late to this site, but I hate most advertising — Drug Ads especially. But, the drug ads have turned me against the medical profession as well as the pharmacy industry. Other than my dentist and my eye doctor, I refuse to go to a doctor. Would rather die first than go, much less to recommend one of these sleazily marketed drugs for a doctor to prescribe.

  2. Danny

    NO! They absolutely DO NOT! They are stupid, they are annoying, and not one person on the planet needs to know ANY of the useless information on them, nor do they need to watch a montage of some sick person’s personal life. The only person who should be telling me about a drug’s side effects and whether or not I should stop taking it, is MY DOCTOR. And only IF I have any of those problems in question. Guess what, commercial makers, NEWS FLASH! YOU are not my doctor! So stop bugging me about some drug that I don’t need, and stop making me watch some stupid montage of some sick person’s personal life!

  3. M.E

    Medical and Prescription drug ads are SERIOUSLY out of control in the United States. It is inconceivable that anywhere else in the world you would be bombarded all day with commercials about drugs ‘which might be right for you’, but if you have ‘heart problems, liver problems, kidney problems, bladder problems’ you ‘may want to consult with your ‘primary care physician’ (um, its a doctor!) first. I don’t know about anyone else but watching these commercials all day gives me a HEADACHE!! (PERHAPS THAT’S THE IDEA!).

  4. catsmoo

    i agree. dr don’t listen to patients anyway.

  5. KH

    Dear Drug Companies:
    Please advertise to the medical professionals that prescribe your products and do not have the general public “ask their doctor if XYZ drug is right for them.” If the drug is right for them, then the doctor will prescribe it. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, please conduct extensive testing of your products before inflicting them onto the public; if the potential risks outweigh the benefits, then it’s back to the drawing board.
    Dear FDA:
    You should be ashamed of yourselves for allowing so many prescription medications on the market many of which the side effects are worse than the condition for which it was meant to treat. I recently heard an ad for a product to help with persons suffering from ‘shift work disorder’ (sure sounds like someone needs to get a good night’s sleep or change professions). One of the possible side effects was thoughts about suicide. I don’t think the patient was seriously considering that as an option for treatment. The ad further indicated that this drug is not intended for children. It doesn’t sound like it’s made for adults either. Does the FDA ever say ‘no’ to a drug company?
    And finally,
    Dear Attorneys:
    Please don’t ask the public to join a class action lawsuit for drugs that were prescribed (and probably asked for by the patient based on a 30-second television commercial) to persons that never should have taken the drugs in the first place (i.e., pregnant mothers, persons with family histories of risk). We need to stop the greed behind this unholy alliance. It seems like the ones getting hurt are the patients taking this FDA-approved medication, produced by drug companies that did not do sufficient testing or that did not have the conscience to refrain from manufacture and distribution of harmful products.

  6. R.C.

    No. These prescription do not belong on TV and the rest of the ad content for other items sold on TV needs to have air time and content cut back as well. I have noticed that a lot of TV has increased TV ad time to 5 min of ad time and 5 min of movie time. That is excessive and only shows a greed for more money.
    I am fed up with my TV movie time being broken up by more TV ads and I will consider ending my subscription to Dish TV if this trend does not change to fewer ad time and more movie time. As it stands now I boycott all items advertised on TV. I hate the Progressive insurance ads, and that excessive ad that shows two different color cars with a guy in a mask saying each car will be covered for the same coverage as other insurance companies only cheaper.
    They run these ads one after another two times in a row and ram it down your throat. I will never buy the insurance advertised as mentioned above and will instruct my friends and all other people I communicate with to not purchase the above ads. I am fed up with all the greed and corruption that is running out of control on local and national etc. television. Thankyou

  7. Hmff

    These commercials DO need to be banned, or at the very least, limited. They are repressing. I am VERY concerned about the effects they have on our young people. I feel the pharmaceutical companies are brainwashing their young minds to think that the slightest ailment requires a Doctor’s visit or medication. Creating hypochondriacs.
    I am all for writing to Congress, and will do so. Pharmaceutical companies also provide GREAT perks for doctors to push their new medications. I have witnessed trips to Paris being offered if the doctor wrote enough Rx’s for a particular med. It’s sickening. Not ALL doctors fall for these perks. Not ALL doctors are cheap and self fulfilling. Use this money to help people that can’t afford the medication and/or health care they need!!
    These pharm. companies spend who knows how much money on elaborate lunches and “gifts” (calculators, pens, paper post it pads, just to name a few things) for the whole doctors office. I DO commend the doctors I witnessed who refused their “generosity.” (They are few and far between though.) It’s just ridiculous. I watch very little TV that requires commercials because of the horrendous advertisements. Media Hype. It’s Disgusting.

  8. DS

    I am appalled by medical commercials touting VIAGRA, Women’s pleasure gels,
    I have grandchildren. I feel that all medical prescription drug commercials are wrong. Why do we have doctors or medical professionals?
    What has happened to America?
    Offensive Commercials that make children ask “what is that?” should not be allowed. Remember, Lucille Ball couldn’t even say she was pregnant?
    Who is minding America?
    Lobby Groups such as the Pharmaceuticals and Drug Companies?
    I am concerned for our children!

  9. Mrs. MK

    I am so sad by all the commercials on take this or take that.

  10. Rx

    I agree with everyone on here. It is offensive to see how often sexual-related drugs are advertised–even on children’s channels. It is sickening and has to stop.

  11. CDB

    We all need to start raising a stink about these advertisements. They need to be banned. People need to contact Reps and Sens and complain, because our government doesn’t seem to be talking about this. Everyone complains about the cost of medical care in our country, but instead of just figuring out how to pay for the skyrocketing costs, they should be looking at how to deal with the cause of the skyrocketing costs.
    If the pharmaceutical companies weren’t allowed to have advertisements on TV and in print for the common consumer, the costs of advertising wouldn’t trickle down to the cost of the drugs for the insurance companies, and the insurance companies expense wouldn’t trickle down to the employers trying to provide medical insurance for their employees.
    Back in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up, we didn’t have any of these obnoxious commercials, and I don’t recall parents ever worrying about losing medical insurance or increased premiums, etc. Now you can’t watch a morning TV news program without being bombarded with these ads. These advertising slots are not cheap.
    I keep thinking, why aren’t we hearing more about this from congress or on the network news shows. It’s because these pharmaceutical companies have made such profit on us, that they have tons of money for lobbying and for advertising. The networks are making money off of the advertising. Fat cats are getting rich while we average Americans are taking on the burden.
    Enough is enough. We need to start complaining to the folks in charge. And this is just about the cost of this issue. Another reason the ads shouldn’t be on TV is because most of us aren’t doctors. Doctors have gone to school to learn to be doctors. Let them prescribe the medication we need based on our symptoms, not on what we’ve seen on TV.

  12. LMW

    Doctors go to school and read medical books to learn about prescribing drugs. I can’t learn enough in 30 seconds to decide what I should take. It’s ridiculous!

  13. jess

    All their ads have done for me and my family is make us laugh at the fact people would actually ask for these drugs. They list so many awful side effects that it has turned me off of any prescriptions besides antibiotics (when absolutely necessary). I’ll find other ways to manage the problems that may come up. A lot of these drugs sound far worse than street drugs. I saw one for depression and the side effect is suicide….cmon.

  14. LL

    It seems to me the cost of health care would drop dramatically if these jerks would quit paying millions (or Billions) of dollars nauseating us by advertising their crap on t.v. I always either hit the mute button or change the channel when they come on, which is every commercial break.
    And how many little kids ask their parents, “What’s an erection lasting more than four hours?” There needs to be a class-action suit brought against all these companies who make us sick while we’re trying to watch t.v. at night and make us try to explain to our children why they’re talking about erections on t.v.
    These ads should be outlawed and the people who have been producing them should have to match every dollar they have spent on these nauseating commercials to hospitals and clinics, and let the doctors let us know what is RIGHT FOR US, (I hate that line on every one of those ignorant ads.) Thank you for letting me voice my opinion. I HATE Those ads.

  15. SK

    Ditto with many of the comments appearing here. The unending stream of drug ads on TV have translated to being suggestive of all the things that are wrong with us viewers when in fact we are in many cases very healthy people. Good luck to the elderly viewers of 60 Minutes on Sunday nights! It has led much of our nation’s population to view our well-being as ill-being. This seems a very poor way to approach life. I am looking for a serious consumer group or citizen movement that is working toward minimizing drug advertising.

  16. Concerned.

    I agree with all the above comments from concerned viewers/parents. Prescription Drug advertisements Do Not belong on television…It’s all about Money. We did without those stupid ads uptil the 2000s. There must be a way we can Get rid of these offensive and ridiculous commercials…

  17. CS

    between obnoxious drug ads and the constant tv shows about murders and crime, we are ready to throw out the tv and magazines that have drug ads, particularly the so called “family” mags, do you think writing to your congressman is really going to help? I wish it were so. Everybody out there, HELP!!!!1

  18. JFZ

    Get prescription drug ads off TV and out of print media. TOO MANY and they cost a fortune. RX prices would be much lower without them.
    What other field does the end user have as much (mis)information about highly technical products?
    The average physician doesn’t keep as up to date as they should, drug companies shouldn’t try to appeal to the uneducated masses. What do they think the laymen knows?

  19. hs

    It is not in the public interest to allow drug companies to advertise. The public can look up any drug in the PDR or online to get detailed information on the drugs prescribed for them. If they choose to second guess their physician in order to try a new drug, they need to change to a doctor they have better communication with rather than trying to be their own physician. These obnoxious ads tend to make me, and friends, NOT want these drugs rather than want to pressure our doctors to try them.

  20. HMH

    Pushing prescription drugs on TV or radio has moved medicine from a profession to a shell game. I do not see MDs telling everyone else how to do their jobs.

  21. P Wiesner

    I do not think perscription drugs should be advertised on TV or elsewhere.

  22. dp

    Prescription drug advertising is another very dangerous way drug companies have hugely increased their profits since its inception. I read in the newspaper recently that drug sales have gone up 80% since the advent of TV advertising! When one thinks of the drug-related deaths that occur every day, it is almost tantamount to murder. I will write my congressman. Thank You for suggesting that as a way to stop this mayhem. DP

  23. JBM

    The TV is no place for prescription drug ads. Doctors are the ones who prescribe medicines, and not TV ads. The sad thing is the ads must make money for the companies — otherwise they would not advertise.

  24. LHS

    Prescription drugs are controlled substances, not free-market items — how can it be legal to advertise controlled substances? I’ve never been able to understand this. And yes it is disgusting to see that one for gas during the dinner hour. There is no sense of decency left if there is a dollar to be made on anything.

  25. Marian

    I would never ask my physician if he thought a drug I saw advertised would be appropriate for me. If your doctor is not current with new meds that are advertised so that he can prescribe them with full knowledge of their potential risks, you should change doctors.

  26. Stephanie

    I think these drug ads try to convince people they are sick. They’re just as harmful as cigarette commericals. From my experience, most doctors don’t know about the side effects of most drugs they prescribe. And then after a year, they find out that these drugs don’t work, or can kill us and we were nothing more than guniea pigs. I HATE these commercials. Is there any way to protest these ads?? It sounds like most of us really hate them. I use my DVR and fast forward so I don’t have to listen to them anymore.

  27. Ken

    We keep the remote at hand and mute almost all advertising. Personally, we think pharmacy advertising on TV or in magazines should be prohibited!
    Ken & Miriam

  28. Sheila H.

    Re: TV ads for prescription drugs; we HATE them. Sitting down to supper now includes the remote control on the table within arm’s reach. Why? I’ll tell you why: every single time a commercial for erectile problems/meds or any other commercial for drugs comes on… we change the channel.
    It used to work until it was discovered that just about every other channel (during supper time) had a meds commercial on, too.
    Also, I have found that the ads have taken over some magazines. (I did not renew my sub to one very respected magazine that’s been around since the 1700’s. It’s full of drug ads. That was too much for me!)
    Thanks for letting me “sound off.”

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