Are you a drug company sales representative? If you actually were, you might be earning close to $100,000 per year. Not a bad salary for trying to convince doctors to prescribe certain drugs to their patients.
Chances are you’re not getting paid, but you may be unwittingly doing a sales rep’s work–and paying for the privilege.
Turn on the television and you will see countless commercials for prescription drugs-Zocor to lower cholesterol, Celebrex to ease arthritis pain, Nexium to alleviate acid reflux-to name just a few.
The pharmaceutical industry is spending close to $3 billion on these “direct-to-consumer” ads. The goal is to get people to badger their doctors into prescribing the drugs seen on television and in magazines.
This tactic works. The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that every year over eight million Americans request drugs they’ve seen on TV.
The GAO also reports that many broadcast ads are misleading. But by the time the FDA requests that an inaccurate commercial be removed, the ad may have already run for weeks and been seen by millions of prospective patients.
Doctors often complain that they are sick and tired of patients demanding drugs they saw on TV. And yet, sometimes it’s easier to write a prescription than to spend precious time explaining why a particular medicine is unnecessary.
Part of the problem is that advertising is not education, though drug manufacturers often justify their ads on the grounds that they inform consumers about new treatments.
The 30-second spots are carefully designed to accentuate the positive, and side effects are downplayed. In most commercials, when the announcer speeds through the list of side effects, the video frequently shows people having a wonderful time. Pictures trump words, and the overall impression is that this drug will make your life great.
A reader recently complained about a commercial for Viagra: “I am disgusted and angered to see the ad of a young black man walking to his office and into an elevator with office colleagues asking him if he has a new haircut and various other ridiculous questions. He has a pleased expression on his face.
“Well, men using Viagra don’t look any different. Furthermore, it doesn’t work for everyone. My husband is a perfect example. He’s 70 and young looking, plays golf and exercises. He has hypertension and takes Zestril, atenolol and HCTZ. His blood pressure was down, but his libido was low. His doctor prescribed Viagra for ED, but it didn’t work.
“It’s a real disappointment, so it infuriates us to see this ad. We turn it off as soon as it’s shown. Doesn’t the drug company realize how ridiculous and misleading it is? Of course, they don’t care so long as viewers request Viagra from their doctors and increase their sales. Is there anything the public can do to halt these ads?”
The FDA is in charge of prescription drug advertising. If you, like this reader, are fed up, you can communicate your feelings to the new Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Mark McClellan. His address is 5600 Fishers Lane; Rockville, MD 20857-0001.

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