Big Pharma–the multi-national companies that make up the pharmaceutical industry– gives staggering amounts of money to medical schools for research that virtually always manages to come out favorably for the company. With this much power, physicians-in-training simply don’t learn any means of treating most illnesses short of pulling out their prescription pads. And as a result, the American public is seriously overmedicated for conditions that are often completely avoidable or treatable without prescription drugs.
In the meantime, the pharmaceutical industry spends $25,000 a year on every single physician in the US for advertising. Ever wonder what happens to cheerleaders after they graduate college? Many become drug reps, recruited in their senior year by Big Pharma to join the sales force. Read more here. Like all of the 90,000 drug reps, they’re brainwashed about the benefits of the particular pharmaceutical they’re pushing. The words “side effects” or “long term dangers” are mostly unknown to them.
There is no way for physicians to adequately describe how much drug advertising we’re subjected to. “Information,” much of it spurious, literally pours into my mailbox, over my fax machine, onto my phone, into my e-mail, over my satellite radio, onto my doctor’s cable channel, and in person in the form of well-groomed, articulate (mostly) young women sitting in my lobby with handfuls of pens, calendars, and “important new drug information” for me and coffee and doughnuts for my staff.
The industry spent $5.4 billion on consumer-directed advertising in 2007, according to Nielsen Media Research. I recently had to abandon watching the Tony Awards in the wake of the virtual lies I was hearing about the “latest” drugs. Most physicians detest these ads and the amount of time they have to spend as a result explaining to patients why a drug seen on TV might not be a good choice for them.
Physicians–and many patients–bristle at the pharmaceutical industry creating diseases to fit its latest drug. Social anxiety syndrome, restless legs syndrome, and fibromyalgia really aren’t diseases. They’re symptoms, treatable by means other than prescription drugs. But the TV ad assures us the new drug will “cure the disease.” The truth, never told, is that it may help the symptom slightly, but brace yourself for some serious side effects.
The US and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Everywhere else, drug advertising directly to the patient is illegal.