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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 07:07 am

The cure for common sense

There seems to be no end to commercials for prescription drugs these days. They all seem to feature the same type of generic scenes of people strolling on the beach in billowy clothing, laughing at a cozy family get-together, or looking thoughtful while doing some other activity unrelated to the drug itself.

I remember a time not so long ago when a person had to actually go to a doctor, describe their symptoms, and then wait for the doctor to prescribe a medication that would suit their needs. This, in holding true to the American tradition of meeting any and every need whether we know we need it or not, was not good enough. Now, the ads for prescription drugs will actually describe your symptoms for you and recommend that you talk to your doctor and ask for it by name. Why this doesn’t have more people scratching their heads is beyond me.

The most ridiculous of these ads is fairly new and features a well-known actress with the initials B.S., which seems strangely fitting in this case. What can this life-threatening condition be, you might ask? Inadequate Lashes. I can only imagine the stunned silence as this revelation spread across the country. At this point, I would hardly be more surprised if the same actress was booked on daytime talk shows so she could speak teary-eyed about her lifelong battle with her debilitating condition. That cure for cancer will just have to wait until there is not a single woman whose eyelashes don’t quite measure up.

As if having countless drug ads proclaiming that you may have various conditions and diseases wasn’t bad enough, they are legally obligated to add a laundry list of side effects that range from laughable to disgusting. I see myself as a fairly progressive person, however, commercials during dinner that feature older men talking genuinely about their “E.D.” has to prompt some fairly uncomfortable conversations from younger kids that might otherwise not have taken place.

Although it feels like they’ve been around forever, DTC or direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads have only been around since 1997 when the FDA changed its policies to make this type of advertising possible. According to various sources, the pharmaceutical industry spends upwards of $30 billion hawking their products. Not all of this is spent on television and print ads. A good portion of it is spent to influence those in the medical profession through samples and other freebies. While some doctors may take offense at the notion that their judgment could possibly be influenced by the benevolence of the drug manufacturers, it would be hard to defend the logic of why the majority of pharmaceutical sales reps are attractive females while the majority of doctors are still men.

The main argument at the heart of this debate should be, “Do we really need these ads?” I doubt the average person would say that they enjoy them or find them to be beneficial. So, why are we subjected to the constant barrage of drug commercials? The answer is simple: money, and lots of it.

It is estimated that drug company lobbyists outnumber congressmen by at least 2 to 1. Pharmaceutical companies are some of the largest businesses in the world. The money they spend finds its way into a lot of pockets, and money has a way of changing a lot of opinions. Cost has been one of the largest arguments against the proposed reforms in health care, and it has become clear that our health care system is broken except for those at the top. Would we rather have affordable health care, or billions of dollars worth of ads whose cost is ultimately passed on to the consumer?

Ross Wareham is a freelance photographer, iconoclast and jack-of-all-trades who currently lives in Rochester. He is also a member of the Sibley Group, a local think tank dedicated to the advancement of social justice, truth and compassion. Contact him at hrwareham@yahoo.com.

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