By Ron Conte, Pharm.D.
I am sure most of you have seen the plethora of drug advertisements on television, in newspapers, and other media. And, I am also sure some of you have bought non-prescription medications based on these advertisements. You probably even asked your healthcare provider to prescribe a prescription drug for you based on a TV ad. If so, the drug companies who manufacture these medications accomplished their goal.
But are you really getting all the information you need to make an intelligent and informed decision about a drug product? Not in a one-minute commercial you can’t! The truth is you are only getting the drug company’s version in trying to sell you their drug. You do not get any information about the other drugs used to treat the same condition. Obviously, they do not want you to know about the competitor’s drug, which may be less expensive, and as effective, and possibly with fewer side effects.
The drug manufacturing business is, well, a business. These companies take no oath to “…do no harm” as do healthcare providers. Rather they create drug products under the business adage caveat emptor, Latin for “let the buyer beware.” This is not to say that drug manufacturing is a shady business. Many good products, life saving medications, have been produced by the pharmaceutical industry. However, as a pharmacist, I have spent much of my time counter-detailing specific drug company products.
We need the facts, not “alternative facts”, to make intelligent and informed decisions about drugs. Your community pharmacist is a good source for unbiased information. Most pharmacists, and other healthcare providers, have spent hours reviewing clinical studies to determine which drug(s) is/are the choice for treating a specific medical condition. You will find that a pharmacist’s “one minute” version of a drug advertisement is not the same as what you see and hear on TV.
Only two countries allow drug advertising to the general public: New Zealand and the United States. Drug ad spending is a more than $ 4.5 billion per year business. Drug companies will tell you that the high cost of a drug is not tied directly to drug advertising. But how else would you pay for advertising? These drug ads are about directing choice and creating a demand, not to educate. One Pharma executive disagrees stating “…providing… accurate information… they (the public) are better informed about… options.”
Really? If that is so, then tell us about all the options! Each day the Pharmacy Registry contains information about current lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry. Not surprisingly, most of these cases involve false and misleading advertising.
Let me provide you with a few examples of drug advertisements and how wording and/or situations are skewed to favor the drug being promoted in the ad.
Anoro: an inhaler used to treat chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). The TV ad states, “…you can go your own way…” A good example of an ad directing choice and creating a demand. A bad example in use of the words from a great Fleetwood Mac song. COPD dictates, not the patient, in which “way” you will “go” (treated), dependent upon many factors. With twelve other products to choose from and with the high cost of Anoro, you would be wise to check with a pulmonary (lung) specialist before “…you can go your own way.”
Motrin or Advil versus Tylenol: for treating inflammation. The old ad states that Motrin or Advil is superior to Tylenol in treating pain due to inflammation. This is true. However, Motrin or Advil are classified as anti-inflammatory agents, and Tylenol is not! The ad cannot mention just pain relief because Motrin or Advil are not superior to Tylenol unless referring to the anti-inflammatory effects of those two drugs.
Flonase versus Claritin D: to treat allergies with Flonase “… relieves 6 symptoms” whereas Claritin D “…relieves 8!” Again, two different classes of drugs—a steroid (Flonase) versus a decongestant/antihistamine combination (Claritin D). This is a misleading comparison.
Use of key words and phrases are often stated within drug ads: “Virtually side effect free” which means almost free of side effects, but not quite. But what if that one side effect is possibly bleeding internally? Then the word “virtually” has very little impact.
“4 out of 5 doctors recommend” can mean that only 5 doctors were asked about a drug. Also, doctors of what? Veterinary medicine, paleontology, philosophy, or what?
There is so much more information I can add about this subject. As always, check with your pharmacist or other healthcare provider for accurate and complete information about drugs.
The opinions and statements in this article are those only of the author. This article does not reflect the opinions and statements of the newspaper’s editors nor its publisher.