Sally Fields and the Wonders of Boniva
Hawking Drugs (and Cereal) on TV
EVER WATCH Dr. Sally Fields — an expert on osteoporosis — tell you on TV how important Boniva is for making your bones strong? I mean, if you’re over 50 and not taking Boniva, watch out!
“She’s not a medical doctor”, you say. Then why is she pitching us this drug?
Well, simple really — drugs are products that can be marketed in America just about any way the pharmaceutical companies want to, just like cereal. Side effects? Sure, but what the heck… do you want strong bones and an erect penis upon command or not!
America and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow pharmaceutical companies to market directly to consumers, most effectively via TV. (In the U.S. this was illegal until 1985.)
And these advertisements are ubiquitous. I just ran into such an example recently when examining a 60 Minutes video online about Forrest Bird, the inventor of the respirator which is thought to have saved millions of lives. At 88 years of age, this man is still working, still inventing and is apparently a great example for us all. But I’m not going to present the video on this site because of the commercial in it.
Right at the start, 60 Minutes shoves a Lipitor commercial at the viewer. (“One of four people have high cholesterol”… be afraid, very afraid.) I know 60 Minutes is not a charity; it needs to make money, but I think it’s just plain wrong for pharmaceutical companies to market their drugs directly to consumers.
Among a litany of reasons I can conjure (via my education by Dr. Andrew Weil on this matter) for why it’s wrong for pharmas to market directly to consumers, these three are unassailable:
1. Drug ads strengthen our belief in pharmaceutical drugs as the cures for all of our problems. In fact, the consequences of poor lifestyle choices cannot be undone with pills.
2. Many advertised drugs are not only ineffective, but have serious side effects that are frequently played down (and occasionally concealed) by manufacturers. Because heavily advertised drugs have such vast profit potential, political and financial interests collude to speed them to market before they have received sufficient scientific scrutiny.
3. Drug ads circumvent better sources of information and make people believe that they are being proactive about their health when they request an advertised drug. Thirty-second TV spots that trade on emotion and celebrity contribute little or nothing of value to patient education, or to lifestyle choices that embrace self-administered preventive care.
Unfortunately, too many of us have been conditioned over the last twenty years to think that everything that ails us is solved by a pill. And if you have health insurance, that pill is accessible and affordable. Affordable because of the insurance. Accessible because the pharmas make sure that your doctor is likely to accommodate your request.
Whatever happened to taking some responsibility for our own health? We have everything to gain… or to lose.