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29th, 2017

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            Q: “Should the US government
create stronger restrictions on the marketing of medications on TV and


            It seems like whenever you’re
watching TV, an ad for anti-depressants, birth control, allergies, and other
medical conditions never fail to come on. In 2009 the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) stated that the United States and New Zealand are the only
two countries in the world that haven’t banned the advertising of prescription
drugs directly to consumers. Every other country has banned advertising
prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication via television commercials,
newspaper ads, radio, etc. In 2013, the National Center for Biological
Information reported that in the US alone, although it only makes 5% of the
worlds population, accounted for over 42% of the world’s prescription drug
spending. There are plenty of pros, as well as cons to advertising prescription
and OTC medicine to general consumers. The public’s exposure to drug advertisements
is definitely a huge factor in over medication. Patients often suffer
undesirable consequences from medications advertised on TV because they are
misinformed. Ads are too short and are not properly reviewed by a credible
medical organization prior to being released to the public. For these reasons,
I believe the US government should create stronger restrictions on the
marketing of medications on TV and radio.


            First, drug advertisements are being
used more as a sales booster, rather than an educational tool. Drug companies
are bombarding your television more than ever, however the approach to
appealing patients is anything but informative. We’ve all seen them: the soft,
cheesy music. Happy, smiling middle-aged couples playing sports almost effortlessly,
and then towards the end the narrator very quickly spews a mind numbing list of
side effects in record time. Recently, the Washington Post reported that drug
makers in 2014 spent $4.5 billion marketing prescription drugs, $1 billion more
than the amount spent in 2012. Which is also twice the amount spent back in
2000, which was only $2 billion (price adjusted after inflation). Year after
year, the direct-to-consumer market spending keeps increasing. However, these
corporations are more focused on making their products well-known, and persuade
the viewer to buy the product by providing ideal, perfect world scenarios,
rather than providing adequate medical information on their product. This is a
result of drug producing companies working with advertising agencies rather
than the Food and Drug Administration to create these advertisements. These
companies are more interested in producing a large revenue than providing a
better understanding of their product. Also, the FDA does not approve prescription
drug advertisements before they are introduced to the general public. This
means that the general public might see ads that violate law before the FDA can
stop the ad from appearing or seeking general corrections. Therefore, the US
government should create stronger regulations that would force drug providers
to focus more on how the medication works and who it is is best suited for,
rather than appealing to viewers with unrealistic imagery.


            Second, drug advertisements need to
be longer. Ads in their current state are not long enough to cover all the
prerequisites for the drugs they are promoting. The average TV commercial for
prescription medication is 30-120 seconds long. Commercials for over the
counter medication are even shorter, only 15-30 seconds long. Within that time
frame, consumers are misinformed because drug ads leave out or exaggerate
information, as well as present opinions as factual. In other cases,
advertisements will meaninglessly link lifestyle choices with the drugs. As a
result, consumers are lead to believe that normal bodily functions need to be
treated. For example, some ads will state things such as insomnia, and normal
aging processes such as wrinkles and lower testosterone levels as medical
conditions that need to be treated by medications. Wendy Macias, an associate
professor of journalism at the University of Georgia, researched that in an
average minute long drug advertisement, only 8 seconds are devoted to side
effects and health risks. Macias argues that when presenting information on the
drug, “the information is often presented in a way that people aren’t likely to
comprehend or even pay attention to.” Drug ads are loaded with complicated
terminology. The “brief summary” section of printed labels where important
information like drug usage, warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, are
stated, is often overlooked because the print is so small and so technical.

Macias states, “it’s written for doctors, not consumers.” Prescription and over
the counter drug advertisements need a regulation in which they are allowed
more air time on TV and radio. This would allow drug providers a longer time
frame to present all necessary information in a way consumers can understand.


            Third, drug ads encourage over
medication. In a survey conducted by the FDA in August of 2015, it was found
that 81% of doctors agree that DTC prescription drug advertising promotes drug
overutilization. Doctors argue that direct to consumer drug advertisements
emphasize that prescriptions drugs, rather than a proper diet and exercise, are
necessary to improve health. In fact, prescription medication is prescribed
about 25 times more frequently in the United States than in the United Kingdom,
which does not allow DTC prescription drug ads. 75% of doctors also agree that
the drugs displayed on these advertisements only treat symptoms. They are not a
cure.  Steven Holden, PhD, a psychology
professor at Vanderbilt University argues that “half the folks who are being treated
with antidepressants aren’t benefitting from the active pharmacological effects
of the drugs themselves but from a placebo effect.” Doctors recommend
patients focus more on seeking psychiatric help, instead of wasting their money
and relying on medication. For these reasons, I believe the US government
should create a regulation that reduces the amount of times a prescription drug
ad is advertised on the media.


            Lastly, and most importantly,
prescription drug ads promote drugs before long-term safety information is
known. Not too long ago, a popular prescription drug advertised from 1999-2004
was pulled from airing on TV for causing strokes and heart attacks. The drug
was called Vioxx, a brand name for Rofecoxib. It was advertised, requested by
patients, and prescribed by doctors to treat arthritis pains until it was
recalled, and listed as the primary suspected cause of death in 4,540
mortalities from Jan. 1, 1999 to June 30, 2005. In a more dramatic case,
Accutane was pulled from the market in 2009. The prescription drug had been on
the market for 27 years! It was a popular medication used to treat acne until
it was found that it increased the risk of birth defects, miscarriages, and
premature births when used by pregnant women as well as inflammatory bowel
disease and suicidal tendencies. The US government should create a regulation
in which prescription drugs are tested long enough to clear any undesirable
long-term effects.


            One could argue that there are
multiple benefits to advertising prescription drugs. They reduce disease
stigma, increase disease awareness, inform patients, and encourage them to seek
healthcare advice from health professionals. However, I believe drug providers
have a different mindset. Their goals for these ads are not about public
health. Instead, direct to consumer ads are simply designed to boost sales.

They unnecessarily increase health care costs and trigger overprescribing of
expensive and potentially harmful medications. Therefore, the US government should
create regulations that would redirect drug ads to focus more on drug
information, provide longer airtime, reduce the frequency of these ads, and
require a long test period. Direct to consumer drug advertising should be
reviewed by a credible source like the FDA, as well as the federal trade
commission, prior to being released to the public. With these regulations in
place, I’m certain the pharmaceutical market will become a safer place for

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