No, this isn't a rerun and yes, I wrote about it just six months ago: prescription drug advertising – aka “direct-to-consumer” advertising and no surprise: it hasn't changed since then.
But maybe I have.
Before I get to that, however, consider this: most of us know there are “seasons” for sales of different kinds of products. Holidays are obvious but home appliances get a big push at certain times of the year. Beds and bed linens at other times. Cell phones are big in February. Sneaker sales seem to be everywhere in April. And so on.
I could be wrong – I haven't done a comparative study - but I believe I may have identified summer as the time of year pharmaceutical companies heavily promote their newest drugs.
Have you noticed recently? There are a bunch of commercials about drugs I had never heard of before: Orencia, Verzenio, Neulasta, Toujeo and more.
They sound a lot like the ones we're already accustomed to e.g., Eliquis, Humira, Xarelto, Lyrica, etc. which continue to be aired among these newbies. They are ubiquitous – I once counted seven prescription drug commercials in a one-hour TV show, and three or four is common.
Because people 65 and older are just about the last age group in the U.S. that watches TV and are also the age group that uses the majority of prescription drugs, it's old folks the marketers target and in addition to the billions of dollars big pharma pulls in for their drugs, it is a lucrative source of income for television networks, channels and owners.
”Drug companies spent more than $6 billion [in 2017] on direct-to-consumer ads, according to the consulting firm Kantar Media,” reported the Los Angeles Times in April. “Over 770,000 such ads were aired in 2016, the most recent year for which stats are available. That's up a whopping 65% from 2012.”
Milton Packer is a U.S. physician well known for his clinical research into heart failure.
”Studies report that consumers often place unwarranted trust in these TV prescription drug ads,” Packer wrote at Medpagetoday in May.
“Practitioners report being bombarded by patient requests, and many feel pressured to prescribe drugs that have been requested by patients, even if they believe it is inappropriate to do so. And the conversation often wastes the limited time the physician has allotted to the patient visit.
“Think the situation is bad now?” Packer continues. “A year ago, pharmaceutical companies were seeking FDA permission to use direct-to-consumer advertising to promote off-label use of drugs for nonapproved indications.”
That's not much different from a movie star advising people to not vaccinate their children, is it. Sure, let's tell people they can use a powerful controlled substance for anything they want.
I'm shocked that anyone could or would actually think that up. And it gets worse. This from The New York Times last December about prescription drug commercials in general:
”'The ads, which once focused on treatments for chronic but generally nonfatal conditions, have turned to more serious ailments in the last few years,' said Thomas Lom, a consultant and former senior executive at several health care ad agencies.
“'In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot,' he said. 'Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.'”
Did you know that every nation in the whole wide world disallows direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising except two? New Zealand is one. Can you guess the other? (The U.S., of course. But you knew that.)
A 2016 Harvard poll [pdf] asked Americans if prescription drugs should be advertised on television:
• 57% adults said they support removing prescription drug advertisements from television
• 39% said they opposed this change
The researchers report that there were no significant differences in opinion on this question by political party affiliation, income or gender.
Not that anyone in power, let alone the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which sets the rules for pharmaceutical advertising, will do anything.
Okay. Believe it or not, all the above is background for what I really came here to say today.
It's not just the adverts themselves that disturb me. It is that, as one citation above notes, there are so many of them for the most debilitating and life-threatening diseases that exist (and the ads are always so damned cheerful about it.)
As most of you know, in June 2017, I underwent a 12-hour surgical procedure for pancreatic cancer. That and chemotherapy have been successful and in January the surgeon said there was no evidence of cancer, which my oncologist confirmed in February.
But that doesn't mean I can go back to the life I had before. I am forever stuck now in a “before and after” personal world, and I haven't found a way to ignore the event that divides the two sides of my life.
Although I'm still working out how my belief system has been challenged and I recognize that some of my outlook and attitudes may not be quite as solidly held as they once were, mostly I don't want to hear the word cancer anymore and certainly not the phrase “pancreatic cancer.”
I am not in denial. And I know that statistically, I am more likely to have a new cancer one day than someone with no previous cancer.
But I don't see a reason to think about that unless or until it happens. Unlike the majority of pancreatic cancer patients, I somehow made it through the first year after diagnosis and then some. A miracle, some say.
Living requires forward motion and I dislike the darkness, however fleeting, that shadows me for awhile following each drug commercial. I will never be as health carefree as in my “before” life but television free of drug commercials about dire diseases sure would help a lot.
(I'm not looking for advice today – just ruminating on something I've noticed that some others may recognize. Nor is it about 'don't watch tv' especially when we are living through a golden age of scripted programming - there is a lot of great stuff on TV these days. I'm only reporting something that may or may not be useful to discuss.)