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Published:February 15th, 2009 19:00 EST
pharma, commercials

That Thing About Pharma Commercials

By Erich Brandenberger (Mentor)


Watching TV can be detrimental to your health. American audiences are constantly exposed to messages like this: If you`ve always gotta go, you may have a treatable medical condition.  So ask your doctor about Blablabla.  Ask your doctor about the benefits of X-wye-Z.  Pipapo is not for everyone. If you`re taking medication for insomnia, Pipapo might induce a heart attack, or ulcers, or other very bad side effects which might even require amputation. But nonetheless, tell your doctor to consider its effectiveness in removing unwanted belly button lint.  

The pharma industry spends some four billon dollars a year to talk directly to TV viewers. That adds up to nearly a third of the ad buys at evening news time. So it`s saturation " nearly wall-to-wall " drug ads for the normal consumer in the country with the most expensive healthcare system in the world: the USA. 

Regrettably, Americans don`t have the option to watch TV as it is broadcast in, say, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Great Britain, France, Italy or most anywhere else. They would notice the stark difference. Pharmaceutical companies don`t do direct-to-consumer ads on television there. You might see a commercial for taking care of bruises, or for a vitamin concoction, or something in the realm of the not-too-serious. But certainly not for depression, incontinence, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arrhythmia or anything like that. Those are conditions that encourage ordinary people elsewhere in the world to consult their physicians " and certainly not with a precast treatment recommendation. 

Only in America, arguably, do people with serious health problems regularly confront doctors with the question Could you write a prescription for Pipapo? " Sure they can. They make money when they do it. 

The trouble with saturation pharma advertising is that consumers start asking themselves whether they might indeed have a condition that is being dramatized in the commercials. Boy, I`ve experienced that symptom! Maybe I need Pipapo! " The result is over-medication. When patients ask their doctors if Pipapo is perhaps a good drug against their sleeping, incontinence, or high blood sugar problems, more than half of them are likely to walk out of the doctor`s practice with that drug. 

In many cases, the better counsel would have been to do more exercise. 

The hard fact is that pharmaceutical companies don`t know exactly how different drugs interact in the human body. So taking a pill that lowers blood pressure or cholesterol might wreak devastation when combined with a tablet designed to reduce someone`s craving for fatty foods or alcohol. 

Concurrently, scientists are beginning to find out that self-canceling or condition-escalating mechanisms are very directly linked to an individual`s DNA. Or in simple terms: an aspirin combined with a sleeping pill can be remarkably efficient for one person but throw another person`s metabolism totally out of whack.  

Personalized medicine is the next big paradigm. It`s worth waiting for. In the meantime, don`t take drugs because you can identify with a character in a pharma ad on TV. Keep your mucous membranes moist. Walk more. Listen to body cravings except if they involve refined sugar in any form. Trust your doctor to diagnose you correctly or refer you to a specialist if your condition (do you really have one?) is beyond her or his scope of expertise. 

And above all, skip those pharma ads. Get some munchable veggies from the fridge while they`re running. Because otherwise, you run the risk of assuming that you`re sick. That alone can make you sick.