Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Direct to consumer pharmaceutical ads, or how the american public forgot why government regulations exist in the first place

Direct to consumer pharmaceutical ads are everywhere. But if you have watched television since 1997 you probably already knew that. Whether its Viagra, Lunesta, or my personal favorite the Musinex mucus family, the ads are everywhere and everyone hates them. The list of possible side effects that they are required by law to read usually occupies a good 25% of the commercial and by the end you are asking yourself “who is actually going to their doctor after watching the Omnaris toy soldiers for the umpteenth time?”

The next question should be, why is this crap on TV at all? If you really needed a medicine don’t you think your doctor would know about it and recommend it to you?

Now besides the many problems with the for-profit “disease care” system that we have in America today, the rise of direct to consumer drug ads is a clear cut case of powerful lobbying and government agencies doing the bidding of corporations rather than the people. And no one seems to realize these ads are a relatively new development.

Starting in 1997 the FDA changed their rules governing how much you actually had to say about your drug in a TV ad. In response to these loosened rules (which I am sure the lobbyists for big pharama had nothing to do with) the drug industry went hog wild, increasing their spending on these ads from $590 million in 1996 to more than $4 billion in 2004. I shudder to think what the numbers are today.

Why then, if Americans really hate these ads don’t they demand that their government stop these annoying and hypochondriac-creating ads?

We don’t even realize what happened. Our government decided that it was more important for the big drug makers to spend even more of the money we give them on advertising rather than R&D. And now we just accept the status-quo as the way it always was and the way it always will be.

I know this is a small problem but it speaks volumes about how disconnected Americans are from their government. People think the government is incompetent and lazy. On the contrary, the government can do wonders for you if you have the lobbyists to push for years and spend millions on campaign contributions.

1 comment:

  1. I think there's another question that needs to be asked here: are there other industries that are willing to pay for the ad space? You lay most of the blame on big pharma, but what sort of role do you think the media itself played?

    To answer my own questions a bit, I think that the media also lobbied pretty hard for the loosening of the rules on advertising. At this point, drug companies make up a large percentage of ad time during any given program (especially sports) and it's not clear that there are other companies that are willing to step in and pay the same amount that the drug companies are. If you take out five or six companies that bid for ad space on television, then prices for that space will fall (at least according to basic supply and demand). This in turn means worse programming on TV beacuse there is less budget for the shows, and worse entertainment. So, to play devil's advocate somewhat, ads are the price we pay for cheap television. At the point at which TV stops being cheap or entertaining, then the American people will probably stop watching. Having said that, realistically people aren't going to stop watching TV, but those of us who do watch could at least offer the threat of entertaining ourselves differently every once in a while. Or we could just wait until the ads are over and go back to watching Jeopardy.