Why are so many medications advertised on TV and what are the dangers?

Stock image | Photo by Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — I have been wondering if it’s just my imagination or if there really is a lot more direct TV marketing of prescription medications to patients.

It’s not my imagination.

It’s such a surefire recipe for misinformation and manipulation that nearly every developed country forbids the practice. Only the U.S. and New Zealand say it’s OK.

So why are these ads even allowed? The answer is free speech. Unless their content is clearly untrue or misleading, there is little or nothing the Federal Communications Commission can do.

Physicians often look at these ads as woefully incomplete, with no solid studies and history to back them up. Pharmaceutical companies see them as a chance to “educate the consumer” of all of the options available.

The ads target women more than men, and 75 percent of the ads are for chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis — something that doesn’t go away and will be around for the rest of your life. There are also frequent “off-label” statements, like “this medication is not for weight loss, though many of our patients who take it lose weight.”

Stock image, St. George News

You and I and the rest of America aren’t stupid. We know these drugs are likely very expensive. If we have insurance that covers them and are feeling like maybe there is something to these ads, we might say, “Won’t cost me anything. Won’t cost my doctor anything. Why not try it? I might even lose some weight.”

But before you rush to get a prescription, do some research. Look up the drug on the National Institutes of Health website or the Mayo Clinic website. Ask your doctor if any data comparing it to the medication you are currently on has been published. These are all reasonable approaches.

Going in and insisting you be given that new medicine with a name that looks like it was written in Apache is really not the best approach. I am still ultimately responsible for anything I prescribe, and if I let a TV ad take precedence over good science, well, that’s bad medicine. Look back to 2004 and Google “Vioxx ads” and you will see some really catchy ads for a medicine that turned out to be a pretty big disaster.

I think a little skepticism is not a bad thing. It has kept me from jumping on bandwagons in medicine that didn’t turn out well. It is good for you as a consumer, too.

Don’t assume that the new medication with the smiling attractive people is actually the best available treatment for what you might have.


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