Are Drug Commercials Bad For Your Health?

A new study in the current issue of Annals of Family Medicine suggests that certain types of big pharma advertising may be bad for us. The researchers studied big pharma ads shown during evening news programs, examining them for “factual claims they make about the target condition, how they attempt to appeal to consumers, and how they portray the medication and lifestyle behaviors in the lives of ad characters.” What did they find? From the report:

“Most ads (82%) made some factual claims and made rational arguments (86%) for product use, but few described condition causes (26%), risk factors (26%), or prevalence (25%). Emotional appeals were almost universal (95%). No ads mentioned lifestyle change as an alternative to products, though some (19%) portrayed it as an adjunct to medication. Some ads (18%) portrayed lifestyle changes as insufficient for controlling a condition. The ads often framed medication use in terms of losing (58%) and regaining control (85%) over some aspect of life and as engendering social approval (78%). Products were frequently (58%) portrayed as a medical breakthrough.”

The researchers determined that big pharma advertisements don’t provide much factual information and Instead, rely on “characters that have lost control over their social, emotional, or physical lives without the medication.” We’re not scientists or anything, but we’ve noticed this too. —MEGHANN MARCO

Another Reason Not To Watch Drug Commercials


Edit Your Comment

  1. acambras says:

    Mandy Patinkin played a doctor on TV — that’s why I’m going to go get a scrip for Crestor. Even if I don’t know what it’s for.

    I like that drug companies are now required to list side effects in their ads — nothing like mentioning the threats of nausea, persistent diarrhea or death to get the consumer in the buying mood!

  2. infinitysnake says:

    It is bad for you, I think- they’re making an end-run around doctors and trying to get people to request their medications based on five-second samples of information. The best example of this was the whole Vioxx fiasco, where the stuff was touted as a miracle drug, when in fact all it was was an ordinary nsaid that was approved for patients who get tummyache from ibuprofin. They sold it hard to people who could never have known the truth without a lot of digging, and people died as a result.

  3. Paul D says:

    “certain types of big pharma advertising may be bad for us”

    This study brought to you by the Department of Well, DUH!

  4. mackjaz says:

    Restless Leg Syndrome? Check! Got it. Bring on the meds.

  5. I have a close family member whom I have watched as her mental health slowly degrades because of these sorts of advertisments. Armed with the knowledge of the symptoms listed in the ads she can walk into the doctors office and get exactly what the commercial told her to ask for without asking for the drug by name.

    I wonder if the consumer revolution can make a dent in the pharma industry.

  6. shoegazer says:

    “nothing like mentioning the threats of nausea, persistent diarrhea or death to get the consumer in the buying mood!”

    No kidding. This totally depressed me when I flew into Florida last month, to the point that I stopped watching television.

  7. SexCpotatoes says:

    Yep, and how about that potential cancer cure that is UNPATENTED and UNPATENTABLE!

  8. HawkWolf says:

    I love those statin commercials. “[drug] has not been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.” Oh really? So, you HAVE to lower your cholesterol, but doing so with this drug has not been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. SO WHY THE HELL SHOULD YOU TAKE IT?

  9. I propose that either ALL drug dealers are allowed to advertise on television, or none of them are.

    Face it, there’s absolutely nothing less dangerous about taking the wrong prescription drug than taking a recreational drug — both are likely to hurt and/or kill you (and both have potential benefits with proper medical supervision). So why not give Tyrone an ad on the evening news too? He’s no more money-motivated than Pfizer is.

    (Hmm, if they competed more directly, would Ty start giving out free pens?)

  10. B says:

    You still need a doctor to get a prescription, right? What’s really scary is the marketing that drug companies do which targets doctors. You’d think that a highly paid professional wouldn’t be influenced by a free lunch and a bunch of “Viagra” pens, but they are.

  11. etinterrapax says:

    I’ve thought this for a long time, but usually am shouted down with a firestorm of righteous indignation that people should be able to go to their doctors armed with information about available treatments and these commercials were informational, etc. Drug companies care about one thing: selling drugs. They don’t care about you or your illnesses or your relationship with your doctor, with whom their relationship is of a purely fiscal nature.

    This is not to say that doctors are perfect. Plenty of them let their own biases get in the way of prescribing a course of treatment that may help. Some dislike chiropractors, some don’t give antidepressants, some tell you you’re not in pain when you are (lesson one in nursing school re: pain is that the pain is as severe as the patient says it is). But making yourself a shill for a pharma company is not going to make your doctor more competent or you healthier. It’s just going to make the companies richer.

  12. RogueSophist says:

    More importantly, Mandy Patikin played Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride. I make it my policy to buy pretty much anything he, Cary Elwes, or Andre the Giant tell me to buy. The latter from the grave, of course.

  13. acambras says:

    What etinterrapax said.

    While I think it’s important for patients to be informed about health issues, I sometimes wonder if a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. While I’d like to believe I’m reasonably intelligent, I understand that my doctor knows a lot more about medicine, health, and pharmacology than I do.

    I wonder how many women end up going to gynecologists to voice concerns about prostate health, or how many men go to their doctors asking for the cervical cancer vaccine.

  14. ElizabethD says:

    “My name is Inigo Montoya. You dissed my Crestor. Prepare to die.”

    Oops, I see RogueSophist, above, beat me to the “Princess Bride” reference. God, I love that movie!

  15. adamondi says:

    All I know is that I am so tired of being assaulted by the drug commercials, adult diaper commercials, denture cream commercials, erectile dysfunction commercials, and all the other crap targeted at old, sickly people that I want to scream whenever I watch Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.

    I have heard doctors say that they detest the drug commercials because they have patients who show up thinking they need something they saw on TV, rather than what their doctor thinks they should have. Yeah, because seeing a 60-second spot on TV makes you more qualified to pick your medication than your doctor who has 30 years of schooling and experience. Argh.

  16. etinterrapax says:

    I’m with you, adamondi. Since I’ve been home with my baby, I have discovered that I now fall into the most depressing target group on the planet: all of what you listed, plus payday loan companies, people willing to turn my structured settlement into cash, people willing to give me a secured loan for my car title, people willing to give me job training for a better career in a tractor trailer cab, in a medical office, fixing air conditioners. I have a freaking master’s degree. Okay, it’s not personal, but it isn’t helping my self-esteem much.

  17. acambras says:

    etinterrapax –

    Don’t forget personal injury lawyers!

  18. juri squared says:

    This practice especially disturbs me when it comes to antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, since it can be pretty easy to convince yourself that you need drugs when cognitive therapy might work better. Especially because everyone experiences the symptoms of depression at some point in time, but that doesn’t make it chronic and doesn’t need drugs.

    I really think drug companies are targeting people who absolutely should not be using their product, and it really bothers me.

  19. Solo says:

    “Please ask your doctor about diet and exercise. Dieting is good when you are overweight. It’s good for your health, it’s good for your mind. Exercising will increase blood flow, strenghten your heart, develop your lungs.

    Exercising helps reducing stress hormones such as adrenaline. Adrenaline is a factor in heart disease and heart attacks.

    Diet and exercise is also good at preventing or keeping diabetes under control.

    Don’t hesitate, ask your doctor now how you can lose weight by eating less food, get more nutrients by eating more green vegetables and how to get more exercise doing every day things like not spending 15 minutes taxying the parking lots obsessing about getting the spot the closest to the door”

    Nah. Ask your doctor for my pill. FDA Poison Approve for you, money for the pharma.