The People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Top Doctors Prescribe a Ban on Drug Ads

If you're fed up with prescription drug ads for erectile dysfunction, toenail fungus or COPD, you have company. Doctors have come out against such drug ads.

The sleeping giant has awakened. The American Medical Association (AMA) is the largest organization of physicians in the U.S. At its interim meeting in November, the AMA called for a ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs.

The doctors are concerned about:

“the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices…Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

Prescription Drug Commercials on TV:

If you watch any television at all you have almost certainly seen a commercial that urges you to ask your doctor about drugs such as:

  • Belsomra [for insomnia]
  • Breo [for asthma or COPD]
  • Celebrex [for arthritis]
  • Cialis [for erectile dysfunction or ED]
  • Crestor [for cholesterol control]
  • Humira [for psoriatic arthritis]
  • Invokana [for type 2 diabetes]
  • Januvia [for type 2 diabetes]
  • Jublia [for nail fungus]
  • Kerydin [for toenail fungus]
  • Lyrica [for diabetic nerve pain]
  • Namenda XR [for Alzheimer’s]
  • Neulasta [for immune function after cancer treatment]
  • Opdivo [for squamous non-small cell lung cancer]
  • Otezla [for plaque psoriasis]
  • Viagra [for ED]

Informal polls that we have taken show that most people find these ads aggravating at best and horrific at worst. Nonetheless, it is clear that this type of marketing is working.

Last year the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $4.5 billion on consumer ads. That is up substantially from the prior year. The industry does not spend money on marketing unless it produces results.

Why Doctors Find TV Drug Ads Annoying:

Most physicians we have talked to also find commercials for prescription drugs offensive. They never imagined that patients would come into their office asking for powerful prescription drugs to treat serious medical conditions like type 2 diabetes or lung cancer. Trying to explain why one of these new medicines might not be right for you could be aggravating and time consuming.

PhRMA’s Support for Drug Ads:

The organization that represents most major drug companies, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), responded to the news release from the AMA by telling Bloomberg:

“Providing scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options is the goal of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.”

Getting Around FDA Rules About Drug Ads:

The FDA requires drug companies to reveal the most serious side effects of the medications they advertise to the public. Ad agencies have found ways to make the messages less scary. One of the most common tactics is to show pictures of people having fun, smiling or playing with dogs or children during the voice-over about severe adverse reactions.

Abilify TV Commercial:

As an example, consider an ad for the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole (Abilify). It was being promoted as an add-on to an antidepressant. The announcer read:

“Abilify is not for everyone.

“Call your doctor if your depression worsens or if you have unusual changes in behavior or thoughts of suicide…

“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.

“Other risks include increased cholesterol, weight gain, decreases in white blood cells which can be serious, dizziness on standing, seizures, trouble swallowing and impaired judgment or motor skills.”

While this long list of side effects was being read, the cartoon woman interacted with her smiling cartoon character colleagues at work and then served lemonade to her smiling cartoon family at a backyard barbecue. It’s hard to focus on life-threatening drug complications when everyone seems to be having such a good time.

The Disconnect Between Death and Happiness:

Next time you are watching television and a prescription drug ad begins, we have an experiment for you to try:

First, turn the sound down on your television so you cannot hear a word and just watch the commercial. We suspect that you will come away with a strong sense that the medicine being advertised makes people healthy and happy. Most drug ads are really upbeat.

Next, when the same drug ad shows up, close your eyes and just listen to the words so you can actually hear the side effects and warnings without any visual distractions. Chances are good that you might hear: one or more of the following:

seizures, loss of hearing, difficulty breathing, agitation, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, trouble swallowing, muscle pain, chest pain, high blood sugar, severe liver problems, swelling of your tongue or throat, heart attack, stroke, lymphoma, cancer, tuberculosis, heart failure, coma or death

All of a sudden drug side effects will seem more serious if you aren’t watching people playing with a dog, frolicking in a park or swimming in a lake.

What Can You Do to Stop Prescription Drug Ads?

Now that doctors have come out strongly against prescription drug ads, the American public could join them in calling for a ban on advertising prescription drugs to consumers. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only advanced countries that allow this sort of thing.

Let your Congressman know that you are sick and tired of prescription drugs ads and that the AMA is on the right side of this issue. The cost of medicine is high enough without adding objectionable commercials to the price patients have to pay.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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The boddem line again are the politicians most of the money will end up in there pockets that is why the crazy advertising will never stop. Amen

May there be a link to drug addiction and all the t.v. commercials for prescription drugs. Those ads make it seem that taking rx drugs will cure all your ills.

We all agree that these ads are no good. Till the drug companies stop advertising, we have to learn to IGNORE the ads, pause the prog/put it on mute/and if you cannot fast forward, use that time to say a prayer for a sick friend!

If you are a doctor, Do NOT let the drug companies via ‘dinner meetings’ and good looking drug reps inform you about the benefits of the drug. Their job is to increase sales! They are not bad people, they probably are convinced themselves.

I too am sick of pharmas ads on tv they have no place here. also ads for seniors to get insurance they don’t need .
there is so much angst against this but no solutions.
can we do anything to eliminate these ads, if so what?

I dislike tv advertisements as much as the next person, but cannot believe that those of you taking prescribed medicines want to eliminate because you essentially do not want to hear the negative side effects of the drugs. I think the opposite when I see/hear the commercials, I think about how all of you are being suckered into spending all your money on many drugs that seem to have questionable results without ever questioning a doctor. A doctor who may be compensated for prescribing a drug. You need to question doctors, why should they be trusted without question ever about their treatment plans?

when a tv comedy show i enjoy is interrupted by an ad telling me my doctor is killing me its not funny anymore i want to laugh till i die .

Not only are TV drug commercials adding to the cost of drugs, but in 2016, almost all of the low cost Medicare Part D drug insurance companies have now added a new $360 deductable on top of the monthly required premium. This means even elderly who desire to use less perscription drugs will get financially pinched even more than ever. Turning 65 has become more painful financially. Sad to be forced to live with this by our government.

Every BODY is different and what works for one person may not work for another. LET THE DR. DO THE INDIVIDUAL DIAGNOSING!

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 and 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.

Drug information, the contraindications, and the list of side effects is very easy to search online. For people without access to the Internet the Drug pamphlets, enclosed with your prescription, discuss the risks and warn the patient. Toxicology is also available online. There is little base to support the industry’s claim that direct to consumer ads are targeted to increase patients knowledge of side effects. Absolute hogwash.

Hear, hear, hear to all the commenters; 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; the docs certainly can’t be relied on. (However, Peoples Pharmacy CAN!)

Whatever we need to do to get these ads off TV, let’s get it done. They are offensive and no they do not inform the consumer but rather entice him to seek drugs for every and any condition. They state, “Tell your doctor what drugs you take” … folks if your doctor doesn’t know your medical history he shouldn’t be your doctor! GET THESE ADS OFF TELEVISION!!! PLEASE.

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.

Pharmaceutical companies and Lawyers. Take them off the air.

Please, Please, Please…..The sooner the better. 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, and the average citizen has no business determining what drugs are appropriate for their maladies. I have written to every broadcast network, discontinued subscription to magazines for their 3 page drug ads to no avail…
This is the most welcome news I have heard in years..
Wakeup call……finally.

Finally!!! I have been using my “delete” function on drug ads for years. They are disgusting and promote incorrect usage of drugs. It is about time that the AMA/medical doctors did something about that travesty on the American public by drug companies.

By the way, was this a joke? “Viagra [for ED]” Does “ED” need Viagra!! :-) The ads for Viagra are the most disgusting. I actually switch channels because I can’t stand to look at these ads….

These pharmaceutical media ads would disappear when the medical journals refuse the offending pharmaceutical company ads in in their publications and physicians spent the time given to the pharmaceutical reps with patients instead.

It is way past due,for the removal of the drug commercials on tv.

I think the real reason doctors want the ads removed, is to keep patients in the dark about the serious side effects. Patients are refusing medication because of awareness, and I myself have pointed out to my clueless parents who still think everything that the doctor says is gospel, and have diverted serious drug interactions thanks to the side effects listings. Companies invest in advertising to increase sales, so my guess would be sales are down.

I agree with you: the advertisements are obviously having a negative impact on the sales of pharmaceutical drugs. I attend many clinics in the public health system in Nassau, and, I have heard a number of fellow patients declaring that, the advertisements had scared them so much, they had reverted to home, and herbal remedies. Recently, a doctor told me that, a significant number of her patients were refusing to take pharmaceutical drugs.

What can we, as the public, do to help get drug advertising off television? Since money speaks louder than words, probably nothing, but I do remember when cigarettes were taken off the air. I can’t imagine who asks their doctors for these drugs after hearing all the side effects, but must be more than not.

The only reason why doctors don’t like these ads is this. It’s because after their patient hears about all the side effects, they go question the doctor who first prescribed it without ever informing them of these horrendous and NOT so rare side effects and they don’t want to answer all those questions! That’s the real reason why they don’t like the ads. The drug reps never educated the doctors so the doctors are clueless. Most doctors also say ” don’t read the inserts or you would never even take a Tylenol”.

Notifying my congressional representatives is a good start EXCEPT for: how do I determine how much $$$s support the pharmaceutical industry has contributed to each of my congressional representatives? Being a doubting Thomas, I seriously do not believe Representatives and Senators are going to cut off their financial noses of support in response to letters which object to Big Pharm ads.

I think we would be much better off if those noxious ads were banned. Most of these drugs are too dangerous at best and treat only uncommon conditions. Way too much money is spent on way too few possible consumers.
Most of us are already paying to connect to TV. Why do they need to have ads at all?

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 dont research these things before they ask the doctor for them, and it has to drive the doctors nuts.

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