Drug companies spend billions of dollars on TV commercials that are supposed to entice viewers to beg their doctors for the latest and greatest prescription medicine. But you have to wonder why anyone would want to take pills that can cause so many scary side effects.
Last night we thought we saw a commercial for a new drug to treat bashful bladder syndrome, also known as BBS. The drug, E-Z-P, sounded fabulous. Everyone was dancing, smiling and having a good time. But the voiceover gave us momentary pause. The announcer said in a cheerful tone that E-Z-P could cause galloping gallstones, fearsome nail fungus, purple spots, excessive growth of nasal hairs and huge hemorrhoids.
We’re kidding of course, but many of the medications that are advertised on television come with such a long list of serious complications it’s puzzling that drug companies would bother to promote their pills directly to the public.
For example, Americans are being urged to be on the lookout for the frustrating condition called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). There is a prescription drug called Requip that has been approved to treat RLS.
The TV commercials make this medicine seem wonderful until the voiceover starts reciting the following problems: “Requip may cause you to fall asleep or feel very sleepy during normal activities such as driving or to faint or feel dizzy when you stand up. Tell your doctor if you experience these problems, or if you drink alcohol or are taking medicines that make you drowsy. Side effects include nausea, drowsiness, vomiting and dizziness.
Why would people take a medicine that might cause them to faint or fall asleep while driving? Evidently the drug company assumes that most viewers don’t pay much attention to such warnings, or if they do, they don’t really worry about them.
The same must be true of the drug ads you see in magazines. A new promotion for the “PurplePlus Program shows a dad climbing a ladder to his two little boys in a tree house. He knows they have homework, chores and a favorite hiding place, but he “Doesn’t Know acid reflux may be damaging his esophagus.
This advertisement for Nexium (the “purple pill) has another page with a black bar at the top. In small print, the reader is told to “Please read this summary carefully and then ask your doctor about Nexium. The only trouble is that the summary is in print so fine that we need a magnifying glass to read it at all.
Even if the average reader could read the tiny print, would he understand what it says? We found words like lymphocyte chromosome aberration test, epistaxis, dysplasia, cervical lymphoadenopathy and thrombocytopenia.
Most people find their eyes glaze over after one or two lines of unreadable print. This is probably not an accident. Although the ad agencies are abiding by FDA rules, they know how to present information for maximum impact. Adverse reactions are not something they choose to highlight.
People deserve to know about the risks as well as the benefits of drugs they may take. As long as consumers are the targets of aggressive ad campaigns, they will need to seek out more information than they are likely to get from 30 second TV commercials.