an angry man screamin

Do you watch television? If so, you have almost inevitably seen commercials for medications we hope you will never need. If you are like a lot of our visitors you are sick and tired of prescription drug ads.

2017 Prescription Drug Ads:

Even if you only watch TV occasionally you will likely see commercials for drugs like:

  • Cialis for erectile dysfunction and BPH (benign prostate hypertrophy)
  • Otezla for plaque psoriasis
  • Xeljanz XR for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Eliquis for atrial fibrillation (Afib) and stroke prevention
  • Namzaric for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Trulicity for diabetes
  • Humira for rheumatoid arthritis

How Times Have Changed:

Once upon a time, the only drugs advertised on television were nonprescription products anyone could buy off the shelf at the drugstore or convenience mart. Alka-Seltzer, Pepto-Bismol and Anacin were familiar brands. Few people objected to these commercials. You did not have to ask your doctor for an Alka-Seltzer prescription to treat your upset stomach and headache.

Now, however, powerful prescription medicines for serious or even life-threatening diseases are routinely advertised on the evening news. People are encouraged to “ask your doctor” if drug X is right for you.

If it seems as if you are seeing more prescription drug ads on TV these days, you are not mistaken. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmaceutical industry has substantially boosted its spending on direct to consumer advertising in the last five years. Last year it was estimated at over $6 billion.

The Cost of Advertised Drugs:

Many of the medications that are being promoted are extremely expensive. Opdivo (nivolumab) is an immunotherapy for certain types of cancer. It is being advertised as “a chance to live longer,” though the ad doesn’t specify exactly how much longer. Opdivo therapy for cancer can cost as much as $150,000.

By comparison, advertised drugs like Cialis seem like a bargain at only $400 a month. Keep in mind that insurance companies rarely pay for “lifestyle” drugs to improve a man’s erections.

Humira for rheumatoid arthritis (or other autoimmune conditions) could cost $4,500 to $5,500 a month for a carton of 2 preloaded injection pens.

Xeljanz XR advertises that it is the “unjection” for rheumatoid arthritis. The cost of 30 pills (with a free coupon) can come close to $4,000 a month.

Slick Television Commercials:

Prescription drug ads are very sophisticated video productions. The music and the images are designed to create a sense of enthusiasm for the medication. It should come as no surprise to learn that drug companies don’t want to spend a ton of money frightening people out of taking their expensive medicines. To get around FDA regulations about disclosing risks as well as benefits, the ad agencies have come up with some surprisingly effective strategies.

Voiceover actors are hired who have learned how to deliver really bad news in a calm and reassuring way. When they get to the scary stuff, there is often a subtle change in style. The announcer tends to speed up while reading a long list of side effects. The video that accompanies some of the nastiest adverse reactions (including death) is often designed to draw attention to beautiful vistas, interesting activities, pets or people smiling.

Lyrica for Diabetic Nerve Pain:

Lyrica (pregabalin) has been advertised for treating diabetic foot pain. In one commercial a retired Baltimore policeman describes the condition as:

“you have a numbness but yet you have the pain like thousands of needles sticking in your foot.”

He reports success taking Lyrica for the pain and viewers watch him tending to his beautiful backyard garden. Meanwhile, the voice-over reviews the problems:

“Lyrica is not for everyone. It may cause serious allergic reactions or suicidal thoughts or actions. Tell your doctor right away if you have these: new or worsening depression or unusual changes in mood or behavior, or swelling, trouble breathing, rash, hives, blisters, changes in eye sight including blurry vision, muscle pain with fever, tired feeling or skin sores from diabetes. Common side effects are dizziness, sleepiness, weight gain, and swelling of hands, legs and feet. Don’t drink alcohol while taking Lyrica. Don’t drive or use machinery until you know how Lyrica affects you.”

In another Lyrica commercial a woman hair stylist complains that:

“Before I had this shooting, burning, pins and needles of diabetic nerve nerve pain, these feet liked to style my dog as a kid, loved motherhood rain or shine and were pumps to open my own salon. But I couldn’t bear my diabetic nerve pain any longer.”

Her doctor prescribed Lyrica. While the announcer describes a litany of serious side effects, the smiles show up.

Want to see what we are talking about? Here is a link:

Abilify and Depression:

Other prescription drug ads list even more devastating complications. A commercial for Abilify to treat depression warns:

“Elderly dementia patients taking Abilify have an increased risk of death or stroke.

“Call your doctor if you have high fever, stiff muscles and confusion to address a possible life-threatening condition or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements, as these can become permanent. High blood sugar has been reported with Abilify and medicines like it and in extreme cases can lead to coma or death…”

Watch an Abilify TV commercial at this link:

How to Watch Drug Commercials on TV:

The next time a commercial for a prescription drug comes on TV, close your eyes and listen carefully. You may discover the list of side effects has a greater impact when you are not watching people having fun.

Mad as Hell? Not Going To Take It Any More? 

If you think Congress will ban these prescription drug ads anytime soon, consider that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest lobbying groups in this country. A lot of money funds Congressional campaigns. Here is a link to an article we wrote about “soaring lobbying budgets” from drug companies.

Let’s not forget that the media (television and magazines in particular) are reaping the rewards of pricey prescription drug ads. The cost of a 30 second commercial during prime time television is hundreds of thousands of dollars. During the Super Bowl a 30 second commercial can top $5 million. If a Senator or Congressman tried to turn off the spigot on prescription drug ad dollars, we suspect there would be a hue and cry from the media.

Doctors are Mad Too:

We have asked physicians about prescription drug ads and they seem as annoyed as consumers. After all, they have to deal with the consequences of commercials that exhort people to “ask your doctor” if drug Z is right for you. A couple of years ago the AMA called for an end to direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads. Here is an article we wrote on why “Top Doctors Prescribe a Ban on Drug Ads.”

What People Have to Say:

We have heard from a lot of visitors to this website over the last several years. Here are just a few comments on the topic of prescription drug ads:

Richard in Galloway, NJ, is “annoyed”:

“I thought it was just me that was annoyed by these drug advertisements. They focus on the dangerous side effects with all the happy smiling faces enjoying their days activities. Bunk!

“When I hear these, I immediately think of what side effect I might have if I were taking the drug rather than the potential benefit they may have. Regardless, I don’t ask my Doctor. I let him inform me. What do I know other than what I might hear on the TV about adverse effect of something they are trying to sell. I wish they (the drug adverts) would just go away and let the doctors and pharmacists do their jobs.”

Cindy in Seattle, WA, is nauseated:

“I could not agree more that these ads are self-serving and drive up costs for everyone. The images of smiling, healthy people having fun while a soundtrack warns of horrible side effects, even death, are weird to the point of nauseating.

“It’s almost like, by reeling off these side effects so casually, they are ‘disarming’ them and minimizing one’s concern re: any one of them. Actually just an hour ago I signed a petition to help get these ads off the air. Of course it is incumbent on every consumer to do due diligence when it comes to Rx meds.”

Susan in New Jersey says “enough is enough!”

“I have never believed that Pharmaceutical Companies should be allowed to advertise on TV. Many people find it upsetting and negative. The cost to advertise should be put into research. Pharma has representatives to keep the doctors informed. Enough is enough.”

Barbara in St. Maries, ID, is infuriated:

“Have you tried to watch the news. The drugs ads are sickening, infuriating and disgusting. All this advertising does is raise the price of drugs for those who really need them. The average citizen has no business determining what drugs are appropriate for their maladies.

“I have written to every broadcast network. I have discontinued subscriptions to magazines for their 3 page drug ads. All to no avail. This is the most welcome news [that doctors are fed up too] I have heard in years. Wakeup call……finally.”

Jeff in Fort Lauderdale, FL:

“This should have ended a LONG time ago. It should equate to lower drug prices. Advertising direct to consumer for these drugs is insane. People don’t research these things before they ask the doctor for them. It has to drive the doctors nuts.”

A.M. is concerned about her kids:

“I find many of these commercials to be totally inappropriate at times. My kids and I are watching TV when suddenly we get a commercial for Cialis for erectile dysfunction. I am also fed up with all these initials! DVT… RLS?”

Grace is outraged over the high price of drugs:

“I see prescription drug ads as totally wasteful and useless. No matter how good the commercial, you cannot go out and purchase a prescription drug. That is as it should be. So why the advertising?

“Physicians are kept abreast of new prescription drugs as they come out. They alone can prescribe them. I also resent and am outraged by the money spent on these commercials at a time when prescription drugs are sold at outrageous prices, Many who need them cannot afford them. The money spent on advertising should be spent on keeping the drug prices down.”

What is your opinion about prescription drug ads on television? We welcome thoughts about the pros and cons of such commercials. Add your perspective in the comment section below.

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  1. keith
    MA
    Reply

    all I have to say is AAAHHHHHHHHHH! I am going crazy listening to them. I am ready to break the tv. I run to mute it.

  2. Elizabeth C
    Missouri
    Reply

    I do not believe the the Big Pharma industry, nor do I buy into much of this so called preventative medicine which is also connected to these sickening ads for pills and assorted interventions to prevent illness. Like I replied above to someone’s comment, my husband who has severe RA has never been able to ditch the constant joint pain. His RA seems to have a genetic basis.

    Not much anyone can do, yet he is afraid the pain will be greater if he does not take yet another prescription. He has been countless times to the emergency room because of some side effect or infections due to his compromised immune system.

    Many of the side effects of these drugs are far more dangerous than the actual illness. Yet, his doctors seem to always want to try another new drug. He is ready to stop all of this cold turkey and smoke pot — legal or not. At least he will be happily stoned.

  3. Angie
    Mississippi
    Reply

    I quit watching ad tv due to these comericials. I stick to Hulu, Netflix and surf for news.

    • Elizabeth C
      Missouri
      Reply

      Good — don’t blame you.

  4. Danny
    Reply

    I am currently taking tylenolamab. Is this a good drug

  5. Janet
    OH
    Reply

    stop corruptness of politics and drug big businees

  6. Daniel
    Lolo,Mt
    Reply

    Big pharma needs to be taken down. Nice thought, but I’m sure the ads will continue because of one thing:money. Thats this country in a nutshell, all about greed & money, nothing else!

  7. PATRICIA
    CA
    Reply

    Everyone complains about it but no one does anything about it. I turn the channel off and don’t go back but invariably when I go to CNN there they are again. i would like someone to explain to me why telling everyone they may commit suicide or have a heart attack or stroke is a good selling point.

    I wouldn’t take any of them. Also, this is the reason drugs are off the chart expensive. Pimps and whores. Apparently, they must be getting a lot of money which justifies losing viewers.

    • Elizabeth C
      Missouri
      Reply

      Amen! I totally agree. After seeing my husband go through every drug for RA under the sun and he is still in constant joint pain, I don’t believe big pharma or doctors. They’re all out for the big bucks. He is just about ready to quit all the pills, infusions, therapies and other such crap and start smoking pot. I don’t blame him.

  8. PATRICIA
    CA
    Reply

    I turn off the channel when drug ads come on as I will not add to their rating. My friends do the same. This is the reason we pay an arm and a legs for medicines.

  9. Tina
    Ohio
    Reply

    I Agree with everybody here. These ads & drug commercials, are totally outrageous!!! – I hate them with a passion!… All it does is depress me! All I ever hear are commercials about illnesses and dying, & which expensive drugs you should be getting that will likely not help as much as it hurts! – as well as commercials about lawyers, and everything bad that can happen… lawsuits and medical procedures that have gone wrong . It’s all so very depressing, and that’s all you ever think about because it’s drilled into your head, when you’re supposed to be thinking positively about your life! I know each person’s thoughts are their own responsibility, but with this stuff being drilled into your head every day on television, it’s not as easy as it sounds, to think positively.

    I really wish there was something we could do to take these commercials off television as well as the Internet streaming. No wonder people are getting depressed & taking their own lives 😢✌️. I know these commercials aren’t directly responsible for suicide, but I believe it definitely contributes! I’m just so grateful my own children don’t watch much television! I Love my shows, but I may have to rethink my own viewing. I like listening to uplifting music anyway. There are times I just HAVE to turn off the “Boob Tube” …- – Peace & Best Wishes to Everyone! 😊💕✌️

    • Chuck
      Reply

      Tina, if these drug commercials depress you, then they are also depressing millions of other viewers. Depression compromises the immune system. A compromised immune system can lead to sickness. Sick people buy drugs. Thus, I would like to suggest that these commercials, in addition to promoting drugs and trying to turn the population at large into Big Pharma Reps and, thus, “peddle” these drugs to their doctors, these commercials are also designed to wage psychological warfare on us through the power of autosuggestion. If a positive mind can heal, then a negative mind can make you sick. Big Pharma loves it when you are sick. They don’t love YOU. They don’t even know you. They only know that a sick population is the only thing that fuels their bank accounts and their very existence. My theory is that these commercials are also designed to work over long periods of time to actually make you, and millions of other people, sick by using psychological tactics of autosuggestion and association with the “poor, unlucky” fake actors who have been “stricken down in the prime of life” but with Big Pharma stepping in as some kind of hero. offering them two extra weeks of life. Yes, this is both depressing and insulting to our intelligence.
      (switching to a low, soothing voice — )
      Regarding the depression, understandably felt by compassionate people, and caused by these ads, the only thing that should really be “depressed”, is the OFF switch on your TV.
      The FDA is obviously not our friend either. They certainly won’t stop it. But, fortunately, we, the People, can. :-)

  10. John
    Nj
    Reply

    There’s another side to this coin, the amount of money they spend! Now I know why medical bills are so high, to help fund tv ads. How do they sleep at night! Either they rurn a blind eye or are their heart is callous.

  11. Joey
    Minnesota
    Reply

    I hate those disgusting ads with a passion. Phony people with tortured smiles and gobs of fast legal talk. “Ask your doctor” they say, when in fact it sounds like “ask your lawyer”.

    On several occasions I have stopped watching a show or the news when I could not hit the mute button quickly enough. At times I thought about throwing a dumbbell into the TV. The late afternoon hours are the worst. It really feels like spending time in some fascist prison or something. I bet they could get suspected terrorists to talk by making them listen to these ads.

    Thank God for internet, DVDs, newspapers, and books.

  12. Jane
    upstate New York
    Reply

    The drug companies think they control our lives. They’re just out for the profit. Simple solution, don’t “ask your doctor” and #2 mute the ad. Pretty soon we will all need prescription for mental disorders. Before they drive us all crazy, just shut them off!!!

  13. Deanie
    Ohio
    Reply

    I posted earlier how much I detest these ads. I can’t stop them so I do what little I can. I canceled my cable and now only stream Netfix, Hulu, Acorn. So freeing not to have to pay the exorbitant amount of money to cable co so I can be bombarded by all these scam and drug ads and just enjoy tv without jumping for the mute on the remote. If people rebelled and threw the cable and satellite companies over board….Nothing speaks louder to greedy people than hitting them where it hurts most i.e. in their pockets.

    • Po
      CA
      Reply

      Good for you!!

  14. Danny
    Madison, NC
    Reply

    Yes thank you for the opportunity. I’m 75, retired. and watch too much TV. But these drug ads will drive you crazy. I call them the “Fairy Tale” ads (You live in a fairy tale after taking the drug). I take Wackoril (Kazoonamab) for my ingrown toenail.

  15. Deanie
    Ohio
    Reply

    It is not just the drug ad, but also the Cancer treatment centers of America ads. I don’t believe for one moment that they care about the patients. Try to go there with no insurance or a stage 4 cancer. Repulsive ads. I’m a cancer survivor, and the ads are a constant reminder. Health care is big business.

  16. Robin
    Massachusetts
    Reply

    These pharmaceutical ads make me SICK. They inundate the programs I watch to the point of driving me mad. If they can’t be stopped, they should at least be limited to a certain number per hour. Greed knows no bounds. The t.v. stations and cable providers make a fortune, the pols make a fortune, the drug companies do, as well. It’s maddening to have to listen to and watch 15 times an hour. At least, limit the awful things!

  17. Joanne
    New Hampshire
    Reply

    definitely push laws against pharmaceuticals from ads, they couldn’t do this in the 60’s, the costs are enormous and they are so annoying. They used to be illegal but changed in the 60’s to 70’s, Ii turn the channel as soon as they begin!

  18. David
    Cape Coral Fl.
    Reply

    The one drug that claims “A chance to live longer”: my goodness, the side effects are enough to kill you alone. It has gotten way out of hand with these commercials. If I need medication my doctor is well qualified to prescribe them for me.

  19. Janet
    North Carolina
    Reply

    Ads are killing my Dr. Can anyone gey them off?!! Do they realize they are telling the public the doctors are unreliable in choosing what is best for patients’ wellness?

  20. Heath
    Florida
    Reply

    This is a joke. I watch CNN all time, keep the TV on during the day. I, too, feel I am being brainwashed. I also feel fearful that I am going to get the disease described. You just imagine yourself facing whatever issue is being advertised. Altzheimers, Cancer, the worst killers, are given sound, video and show the pain in the struggle to survive, in these ads. Please ban this brainwashing

  21. Tom
    Kansas
    Reply

    Please, please, stop them! They are driving me crazy!

  22. Rich
    Modesto
    Reply

    I hate them with a passion.. The monotone voice describing all the horrible things that could happen if you take this wonderful drug.. They are dope pushers of the worse kind

  23. Chuck
    ga
    Reply

    I mute the commercials as soon as they come on so I won’t have to listen to the drug ads. As much as I pay for Direct TV, why do I have to put up with all these commercials? Cable or satellite TV should help the consumer by not irritating them.

    • Janet
      Reply

      I agree!

  24. William
    Weirton, WB
    Reply

    Screw these ads! Get’em OFF of TV! I mute them or turn ‘em off😡

  25. Mom
    NY
    Reply

    I’m sick to death of all these adds. I thought at first it was perhaps the channels I watch but it’s not. It’s all channels all day long. So since I like to have the tv on all day, I’m feeling brainwashed as I hear the ads over and over and over again. There has to be something we can do. I have to sit with the tv remote in my hand and hit the mute button when it’s commercial time. It’s driving me crazy, but like they say. Everyone is making money, especially the networks and the pharma companies.

    You would think with all the technology someone would invent some sort of gadget to silence this, or here is a thought: remember when cable tv was promoted as free of ads. HA! It’s become a quality of life issue for me. After reading these comments at least I know I’m not alone. Still, we as consumers are being prescribed to death. And I don’t mean the opiate crisis fake news crap. These new drugs and new diseases that start with DVT or ADDT or whatever, I swear, are all lies. Greed and stepping on the poor who can’t afford their monthly meds is an outrage. Somehow, some way this must all end.

    • marcy
      massachusetts
      Reply

      I am so fed up with these annoying commercials for prescription drugs!! Enough is enough. Why on earth do they have to list every single side affect. I want these dangerous sounding drug ads taken off the air. It’s a damn shame that everything is about money and so we have to put up these horrible ads that are too frequent and way too long. I hit the mute button every time!!

  26. Matthew
    Camp Hill, PA
    Reply

    I see a LOT of people saying they would like to be paid for watching these insane ads… Personally, I’d be happy if I just didn’t have to PAY to watch them. I find it absolutely absurd that the cable and satellite companies get paid twice for one piece of content. They get paid by the advertisers for the advertising content and then they get paid by the consumers to deliver said content. Cable and satellite delivery should be 100% free to the end consumer because it is a disgusting double standard to be paid twice for content.

  27. Kelly
    Michigan
    Reply

    I want the ads banned and I’m willing to help in any way to see that happen. Only a doctor who can run tests, and SEE patients, should make a recommendation on which drug would be right to take. Instead people convince themselves they need a drug based on hearing the ad or hearing a list of symptom(s) over and over again. These newer drugs are expensive. And how many times in the past has a new drug been pulled from the market because of dangerous, or deadly adverse effects? And have you researched how the FDA screens DTC ads? They really don’t! So, like Big Tobacco and Alcohol, eventually these ads will be gone, BUT I bet too many people will die first and people will march in protest, like with guns today. I wish the pharmacutical execs would “man up” and save us the heartache and expense. If there were a petition, I’d gladly sign it and help to distribute one. *****Please, stop the pharmacutical ads on TV!!!

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