Americans love their pills. We’re taking more medicine now than ever before. Are we taking too many pills?

Just watch the evening news or a prime-time television show and you will likely see a variety of prescription drug commercials. In addition to the ever-present ED drug ads for Viagra or Cialis, there are expensive, highly produced spots for drugs like Xifaxan for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The cartoon character represents intestines tied in knots, but as the voice-over lists frightening side effects, the Xifaxan mascot is having fun in a restaurant. The humans who show up on the screen are also enjoying themselves, smiling and taking selfies.

An ad for Opdivo features a city with a giant message crawling across skyscrapers: “A CHANCE TO LIVE LONGER.” The commercial is about a new immunotherapy for lung cancer and emphasizes longer life for desperate patients. What the commercial does not mention is how much longer. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 9, 2015) describes median overall survival on Opdivo for lung cancer was 9.2 months compared to 6 months on chemotherapy.

The Cost of Advertised Prescription Drugs:

TV commercials never mention the cost of medicines they are advertising. A two-week course of treatment with Xifaxan costs over $1,000. If someone were fortunate enough to live a year while taking Opdivo, the cost has been projected at $150,000.

Whether the condition is erectile dysfunction, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer, the message is that there is a pill for this ill. Americans have swallowed the story.

A study published in JAMA (Nov. 3, 2015) shows that almost 60 percent of adults were taking at least one prescription medication in the 2011-2012 survey year. That is a significant increase from just over 50 percent about a decade earlier.

Polypharmacy: Too Many Pills!

In addition, the study shows that more people are taking several medicines at once. Polypharmacy, the use of at least five prescription medications, nearly doubled, going from 8 percent in 1999-2000 to 15 percent in 2011-2012.

The authors of this study don’t tell us why people are taking so many more drugs. Perhaps it is because the American population is aging and older adults are more likely to have chronic conditions that require treatment. Although that may be an important factor, it is not the whole story, according to the authors. They write: “These increases persisted after accounting for changes in the age distribution of the population.”

Categories where drug use increased included blood pressure pills, statins, antidepressants, acid-suppressing proton pump inhibitors and asthma inhalers. The authors point out that direct-to-consumer advertising may be contributing to increased drug use, although it is not the only influence.

The increase in polypharmacy is worrisome because with each additional medication the chance for side effects and drug interactions increases substantially. Too many pills leading to drug interactions are a significant cause of illness and death.

The FDA cannot stop direct-to-consumer advertising without an act of Congress. Perhaps it is time for both doctors and patients to let their legislators know that prescription drug ads are no longer acceptable.

Are You Sick and Tired of Prescription Drug Ads on TV?

If you have had it with all those prescription drug ads why not let your Congressman know that you are sick and tired of it. The United States and New Zealand are the only two major countries to allow this sort of thing. You will not see such commercials in Germany, France, Italy or Australia. Why should Americans have to be exposed to this sort of promotion?

Perhaps physicians and pharmacists should also get involved in the protest. If enough health professionals told their organizations that enough is enough we might persuade Congress to put an end to this practice.

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  1. Dane
    Flint,Michigan
    Reply

    I just looked for a radio station in my area for the broadcast. I found ONE station that airs the program on Sunday at 6 a.m. WUCX-FM 90.1 . POOR programming!
    Even worse was seen in Kansas radio–almost 100% of stations air the program at 1 a.m.! Completely unbelieveable programming.BIG PHARMA regulates and controls access.

  2. Elore
    Canada
    Reply

    my television is just a pimp pushing pills and narcotics, none of this is necessary, it is disgusting,I
    turn it off more than I turn it on these days

  3. nina
    LA
    Reply

    Grow your own food, Eat healthy and work out, and tell the Doctors drug pushers and the pharmaceutical companies to get out of our lives!
    I stop listening to this idiots who have been threatening me with my life to buy their legal dope, and I feel 100% well with Gods gifts then those those so call healer, for they are legal human killers! They get paid to kill gradually by hooking us in to their drug spider web.
    Eat healthy, and work out. Reduce coffee, eliminate sugar, reduce dairy, reduce bread, eliminate animal fat, eliminate fast food junk. learn how to cook and enjoy doing it. Eat Fresh everyday. Drink chicken or beef broth every morning, and you will see your real energy. Always have a good breakfast. Add saute onions or leek and feta in to your eggs.

  4. J. V.
    Bahamas
    Reply

    In Jamaica, and in The Bahamas, more people are returning to herbal medicines, while, others are eager to learn of such after listening to the advertisements for pharmaceuticals on television.
    On a visit to a doctor in Nassau, recently, I was told that, a significant number of patients were refusing to take prescribed medications.

  5. Lyn
    Reply

    They need to stop these ridiculous drug commercials. The doctors have to prescribe medication anyway…let the Dr talk to the patient about whatever meds the patient needs. What good are these commercials for the patients? What are the Pharmaceutical Reps for? Seriously, it’s a waste of money and air time.

  6. cb
    nc
    Reply

    It can be a powerful message.
    People aren’t so quick to just pop a pill for every little thing. I often think the bad out weighs the good on a lot of meds that are advertised.

  7. Marja
    Houston, TX
    Reply

    Not only tv ads are too much, a magazine I was reading last week had 17 ads for prescription medications in it. I counted them.

  8. PLR
    NC
    Reply

    Yes, we’ve been convinced to ‘ask your doctor’. But the power to write these prescriptions still lies with the doctors. They have, in general, abdicated their responsibility to be the gatekeepers and realistically balance risk/benefit.

  9. Pat
    Reply

    Have you also ever noticed the pleasant, light-hearted music playing in the background while the folks in the commercial are dancing and laughing, even when the overvoice is talking about “fatal events”?

  10. DCwriter
    Seattle
    Reply

    I find only one positive aspect to the irritating Rx commercials. If people stopped to really listen all the way through, they would learn about the many negative side effects, often including death. Hopefully that will motivate people to really think before taking a drug, doing their own research and not just accepting a script quickly written by their doc. And I agree with Kim, all we hear about on television are the expensive name brand drugs that in many cases insurance won’t even cover.

  11. Sheri
    GSO
    Reply

    I cynically joke that watching the evening news could be a drinking game. Drink every time there’s a drug commercial and whoever can stand up at the end is the winner. It’s shameful. Just shows the power of the Pharma lobby in our country.

  12. Alice
    Canada
    Reply

    The one thing that baffles me is why anyone would want to take those “things” given all the horrid side-effects they list. Also, the mentality behind prescribing new drugs is mind-boggling. I was just told to take a blood thinner (a new one), but since it wasn’t covered, the pharmacist phoned for an alternative. He was told by the specialist, “Since it’s not covered, baby aspirin will be just fine.” REALLY??? This is beyond stupid in my opinion.

  13. kim
    west virginia
    Reply

    Notice that the commercials are only for the really expensive new medicines. Unfortunately, Pharma is the largest lobbying group in America. They are larger than the defense contractors. Politicians will never give up this flow of money.

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