Major pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars each year directly marketing prescription drugs to general consumers. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing includes TV and radio commercials, as well as advertisements in various publications, probing right into citizens’ living rooms.
According to some, DTC promotion are often dishonest and biased, leading to medical misconceptions, misuse and abuse of prescription drugs to make a profit.
Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement that “aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry and a greater social acceptability for medicating a growing number of conditions” are two important factors in the increase of prescription drug abuse.
Prescription medications for erectile dysfunction are marketed to general consumers. According to the New York Times, more and more sexually healthy men use Viagra, Levitra and Cialis for performance anxiety, not impotence.
These companies need to provide more information to combat drug abuse. Right now, DTC advertisements are not proving to be a reliable source. They exploit the public’s lack of advanced medical knowledge by exaggerating drug benefits with emotive imagery and soft-pedaling side effects, according to consumer advocacy groups like Commercial Alert.
An experienced doctor or physician would question and examine all angles of a drug before accepting and prescribing it to his patients, while a general consumer is more likely to believe an ad and demand a certain product. Often, most DTC commercials say to “ask your doctor” about a particular product.
According to StopDrugAds.com, 211 medical professors from some of the most distinguished universities in the U.S. want to stop DTC advertising and 39 organizations endorse the Public Health Protection Act, which would stop these ads.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, pharmaceutical companies earned $4.20 for every dollar spent on consumer advertising in 2000, while promoting to medical professionals led to an increase in sales of only .2 to .3 percent for every 10 percent increase in spending. Understandably, this has led to a surge in DTC ads.
DTC advertising pressures doctors and physicians to prescribe the newest and most expensive medications.
The omnipresence of ads for certain medications incites consumers to demand that doctors prescribe these medications over less expensive drugs.
According to an article by marketing executive Vince Parry in Medical Marketing and Media magazine, some companies create new conditions by branding a set of symptoms and creating a drug to treat it. Parry said the drug company GlaxoSmithKline coined the term “Social Anxiety Disorder” to describe what was once considered shyness to many. It was heavily promoted to the general public along with a new drug to treat it: Paxil.
Pharmaceutical companies should only target medical professionals who are well-versed in pharmacology and should not advertise to the public
Margarita Abramova is a freshman majoring in mass communications.