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Advertising Boosts Rx Costs

by Jeffrey Georgiades and Dennis Kurian


Increasingly, television’s viewers are aging, and drug industries are profiting by that information. Last year, they poured $5.2 billion into ads, strategically targeting the TV-watching population. Humira, Lyrica, Eliquis, Cialis become familiar words to many who suffer from conditions that those drugs promise to ease or even erase. For many, a visit to a doctor now includes a request for one of those brands.


The bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies shows that such marketing schemes work.

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA) made the United States one of just two countries (New Zealand is the other) to allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of pharmaceutical products. Broadcasting approved and unapproved uses of drugs to lay consumers became legal. From then on, information and misinformation flooded TV, radio and social media.


Pharmaceutical companies build DTC advertisements to create a bias toward their product as would be the tendency of any profit-minded business. For something like your morning cereal, this bias is relatively harmless. For pharmaceutical drugs, however, this bias can have immensely detrimental effects on health, to say nothing of one’s finances.


Rather than prioritizing the education of consumers on particular health issues, pharmaceutical companies promote their products, gaining more by keeping the consumer ignorant of the potential dangers and limitations of their drug and fearful of the existence of a condition within them. Benefits of drugs are overemphasized and side-effects are underemphasized. Peaceful, happy and serene scenes tempt and lull the viewer, drawing attention away from negative side-effects. People subjected to these marketing schemes go to their doctors asking for a specific brand of a drug and often are successfully prescribed it.

Pharmaceutical companies also market heavily to physicians. In 2012, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $24 billion marketing to physicians, attempting to push the sale of their drugs. This included bringing lunch to physicians’ practices, paying them to give talks about the companies drugs and more. This may seem harmless, but it has led to prescription of drugs where they may not have been needed, and often prescription of drugs outside their intended use.


Pharmaceutical companies have denied such charges, yet paid billions in settlements. Of course, we pay for all this advertising as drug prices rise.


Fortunately, reform is in progress. In 2010, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act was released as part of the Affordable Care Act, mandating that pharmaceutical companies producing any products covered by Medicare or Medicaid have to disclose payemtns and gifts made. There is an online database working to collect this data, known as Open Payments (https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov). At this site, a physician can be looked up to see whether he or she is being paid by pharmaceutical companies, either in gifts or otherwise.

More needs to be done.


(Jeffrey Georgiades and Dennis Kurian are Health Care Access Coalition members and graduates of the pre-medicine program at St. Bonaventure University.)

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