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Sick of Sappy Drug Ads? Here's Why You Might Not See Them Much Longer

Sick of Sappy Drug Ads

Nobody enjoys commercials infesting a great show or intense basketball game, but pharmaceutical ads may just be the most irritating of them all.

The lighting is bright and hazy as the screen fills with smiling, slow-motion individuals enjoying their lives because of X drug. As they sashay across the screen, calming music plays over a voice suddenly reading a mile a minute to cram in the potential side effects before the curtain drops.

There’s a reason for this super speed dialogue. The FDA demands all TV broadcasted drugs ads include spoken audio of the drug’s most significant side effects. Regulations are also in place stating that pharmaceutical ads cannot lie and must make full disclosure of all potential risks accessible to consumers.

But now, they may not be allowed to exist altogether.

What is happening?

In November 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to support a ban on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. Bans like this already exist in almost every other country in the world. The U.S. and New Zealand stand alone in allowing direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs and the money poured into these ads is rising fast. According to the AMA, it’s time to put a stop to it.

What’s the problem with drug ads?

The two biggest reasons behind why the AMA wants a pharmaceutical advertising ban are interconnected. Physicians cited concerns that the increased prevalence of ads is driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives.

“There is enough research on this topic to tell us that patients are more likely to be prescribed a medication when they ask for the medication,” says Sally Rafie, PharmD, BCPS. Studies have found that patient requests for specific drugs have a substantial impact on prescribing decisions.

“I would be thrilled if direct-to-consumer ads were banned,” says Janet Patterson RN, BSN. “I studied for years to understand medications. How could a 30 or 60-second ad possibly impart enough information for a lay person to know if that's a good medication for them?”

Patterson points out that health providers exist not only to help treat people, but also to educate them in their options. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists undergo rigorous education and training programs because their job requires them to make life and death decisions.

“Unless the pharmaceutical industry is willing to teach everyone the basics of medicine accurately … let doctors and RNs do this,” Patterson asserts.

Unfortunately, misinformation and marketing hype is only half of the problem. The AMA’s statement explains that as direct-to-consumer ads increase demand for expensive drugs and marketing receives more and more of the pharmaceutical industry’s budget, the cost of drugs will continue to climb. The cost of prescription drugs already increased nearly 5 percent in 2015, according to the Washington Post.

This is a trend medical professionals and patients are eager to reverse. The affordability of prescription drugs remains at the top of the public’s list of health care priorities for the President and Congress, according to a 2015 poll.

And it’s no surprise, considering prescription drugs represent the third greatest cost of healthcare. Significant expense spikes could cause some serious damage to the quality of care health providers can offer.

What about the other side?

Obviously, pharmaceutical companies will be hit the hardest if direct-to-consumer marketing is outlawed. But some healthcare professionals predict trouble on the horizon for consumers as well.

“I believe it will be patients who would be negatively impacted if ads from the pharmaceutical industry are banned,” says consultant pharmacist Jen Wolfe. Wolfe sees prevention and education as driving forces behind national health and believes many commercials do educate and alert the public.

This is especially true of problems people don’t generally talk about. Mental disorders and problems related to sex or aging can get brushed under the rug, even when suffering patients speak with their doctors. Wolfe says ads for conditions which tend to carry a stigma are a great way to show viewers they aren’t alone.

“When people ask their doctor about something they saw on TV, it may spark a discussion about a condition or concern the patient has that the doctor wouldn't have known about otherwise,” she adds. She believes drug ads encourage the public to pay attention to their health.

What are the future implications?

Despite the commotion the AMA’s vote has caused, it may not result in a ban on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. There is enough money in the industry to carry formidable clout and keep the drug ads going.

“Should they be curtailed? Certainly. Will they be?” asks author and MD Don Stewart. “Given the power of the First Amendment and the even greater power of marketing capital, I do not believe that they will be.”

There are plenty of changes happening in the pharmaceutical world, with pharmacists and healthcare specialists everywhere seeking to improve care for patients. For consumers, education is always a smart move.

If the world of pharmaceutical drugs has piqued your interest, you may be curious to know what really goes on behind the pharmacy counter. Check out our article: 10 Things You Should Know Before Working in a Pharmacy.


Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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