Drug Companies Spend Almost $60 Billion On Marketing, $30 Billion On Research. What?

It’s okay for drug companies to spend oodles on advertising because they spend even more making sure their drugs are safe and effective, right? Not so much, according to a study in PLOS Medicine.

The study shatters the accepted myth that pharmaceutical companies spend more on research than on marketing. In reality, drug companies pour $57.5 billion into marketing, dwarfing the comparably paltry $31.5 billion devoted to research.

Billions of marketing dollars go toward television ads that implore us to “ask our doctor” about drugs we don’t need to treat ailments cultured by public relations firms. Yet even more money is spent convincing doctors to prescribe costly medicine—an astounding $61,000 in “promotion per physician.”

For the last 50 years, say the authors, there has been an ongoing debate as to which image of the drug industry is most accurate. The industry promotes a vision of itself, say the authors, as “research-driven, innovative, and life-saving,” but the industry’s critics contend that the drug industry is based on “market-driven profiteering.”

The study confirms the more cynical view that drug companies are out to profit first, and save lives second. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We think there is something severely wrong with a system that emphasizes marketing over research. Profit is good, but profit at the expense of the public health is dangerous.

Don’t be ashamed to ask your doctor if a drug company recently paid for any meals or ski trips. Instead of mentioning the latest drug splashed across the screen, ask how they would use their expansive medical knowledge to treat your condition. Ask how they would treat their child.

Do drug companies do more marketing or research? [SciGuy]
The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States [PLoS Medicine]
(Photo: rabbit.marshall)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.