Our Daily Meds
By Rachel Walden — March 24, 2008
Melody Petersen, who covered the drug industry for the New York Times for four years, has written a book on the topic, “Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs,” Reviewed recently in the Times. The book examines the consequences of Americans’ dependency on prescription drugs, and looks at how pharmaceutical companies expand their sales by promoting direct-to-consumer advertising, providing freebies for physicians, ghostwriting research articles, and engaging in other unseemly tactics.
We’ve written before about advertising and marketing issues, and OBOS offers special sections on the need to remain healthily skeptical of industry-funded research and direct to consumer advertising. Drug advertisements have been the focus of much attention recently, as Pfizer canceled ads for a cholesterol-lowering drug that featured Dr. Robert Jarvik, who is not actually a physician and used a stunt-double for the rowing scene that is supposed to reinforce your belief in the health benefits of the drug. I haven’t yet read Peterson’s book, and I wouldn’t personally go as far as to suggest that nobody would benefit from the advertised drugs (as the review seems to imply), but I’m willing to bet that the percentage of people who would benefit is much, much smaller than those who are being targeted by the commercials (and likely smaller than the percentage actually receiving the drug).
On a related note, Prescription for Change (a campaign of the Consumers Union) is collecting petition signatures to ask the FDA to require these drug ads to include a way for consumers to report side effects, in order to increase understanding of side effects. It’s important to realize that the clinical trials that are used to support drug approval do not always catch all of the side effects or adverse outcomes that may occur, simply because the drug is tested in far fewer patients than will eventually have it prescribed. Relatedly, consumers can report serious reactions directly to the FDA via the MedWatch program.
How many people read the prescription box before popping their pills. Most people take the word of their doctor as assurance. More awareness campaigns is what people need.
There’s a great article by a former big pharma employee, discussing the specific tactics he was trained to use to promote meds. See Following the Script: How Drug Reps Make Friends and Influence Doctors.
For years (25) I worked for a pediatrician who met with drug reps only on his own terms (by appointment at the end of the morning patient appointments) and did not allow them to stock our cupboards and did not allow free meals for the staff. I did not fully realize how wise this physician had been until I worked for a younger physican who accepted lunches, allowed the reps to stock his cupboards and saw the reps anytime, anyday. The reps quickly reacted to the change in ownership. I was shocked, dismayed and observed many more medicine scripts flowing from the pen of the new physician. Sorry, I didn’t write a book first.
The innate feeling that you are trying to help with pharmaceutical drugs is lost amongst two things. profit margins and the patients unwillingness to take responsibility. The misuse of these drugs. Cholesterol drugs, glucophage for obese and diabetic patients. Many see it as an opportunity to live longer by doing nothing. As soon as patients turn the tide, and take responsibility, such as t2 diabetes. Exercise goes along way to reducing food cravings, increase insulin sensitivity, and a better lifestyle. Many want to take a pill that will return them to their 20’s. Unfortunately in America, even their teens. I do agree increased awareness and better implementation of health activities can drastically alter the pharmaceutical industry. No demand, no sales. Better competitive health care could alter the entire scene. Instead of Big Pharma altering doctors who already pay premiums for malpractice, why can’t the Pharma turn toward a Health Care providers to market their products. This would still promote doctors to prescribe dependent upon health care initiatives, but it would alleviate the pressure so you could have a competent diagnosis. This would also give the health care providers more competition in providing a specific drug that is needed as well as prices that are covered. Saving the consumer money. Also any problems with the drug will be in the hands of the health care provider, which would make another safety buffer to some of these drugs with severe side effects.