Our Daily Meds

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.

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