The advertising ailment: opioids plague advertising

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

My phone buzzes. I eagerly open it to watch the YouTube video sent to me by my friend. Expecting a minute of laughter, I click on the link to instead find myself first stuck under 15 long and obnoxious seconds of advertising for a health issue. 

It starts with a woman in pain with some discomforting or life-threatening ailment who then takes a certain medication. Immediately, she is transported to a beautiful field of grass with an active and healthy family by her side. Deadly side effects are playing in the background, but her life experiences a profound transformation.

These ads all have similar setups: uplifting voices, bright colors, healthy-looking people, serious side effect disclaimers and urges to ask a doctor for a prescription.

A curious foreign bystander may wonder what this distinctive advertising genre is. After all, it may surprise many that the direct advertising of medical drugs to consumers is distinctive only to the United States and New Zealand. They may even be shocked that big pharmaceutical companies can  profit from this. Drug marketing is a multibillion-dollar business, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxing its guidelines on this at the turn of the century only led to a bigger boom in the industry. The problem with this is that the FDA only verifies advertisement information after the ad has appeared in public. This means that thousands of people could have seen misleading, unregulated claims. 

The drug advertised to provide a perfect cure for a terrible syndrome is often a much more expensive alternative to what a physician would typically prescribe. 

Seniors have been hit hard by these unnecessarily high costs for seemingly “specialty” medicines. 

Some claim these ads help provide more general education about potential treatments for ailments and lead to people visiting their physicians more often than ever. 

While these are all great things, the adverse side effects often outweigh the positives.  Advertising has led to the use of more expensive medication, the decrease in non-pharmaceutical treatment options such as lifestyle changes and the increase in the use of medication that is not necessary through patient demands of drugs they have seen in the media. 

Who can blame Americans for having illness anxiety  when popular advertisements such as these intend  to turn us into hypochondriacs eager to take so-called cure-all medications (that is, unless we have never suffered from liver cirrhosis, asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, are not pregnant, are not about to be pregnant, are not breastfeeding or are not allergic)? 

In reality, medication is often much more precise and often doesn’t even work for everyone. It is hard to include precise details in a short period. However, if any  dangerous side effects occur, you could always  visit your doctor!

Marketing teams in big pharmaceutical companies have learned the best ways to invoke people’s insecurity, undermining physician-patient relationships and perpetuating the environment where patients are now consumers, and hospitals give out prescriptions to keep their consumers happy and returning. What is the solution? I say we ban advertisements, especially in media, of prescription drugs. Individuals should not have to entrust their health and well-being to the company with the best marketing but rather to the drug that suits their lifestyle and financial interests. 

However, when physicians are also under the influence of these massive pharma companies, who can we really trust to provide us with accurate information?