Why It's Safer to Sell Impotence Than Viagra

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In January, under threat of further FDA regulation, the pharmaceutical industry adopted restrictive guidelines for direct-to-consumer drug advertisements. AP reports that the FDA's habit of pulling ad campaigns (as with Viagra) has convinced drug companies that it's smarter to sell a disease than its cure:

Total spending on drug advertising rose 4.9 percent to $4.7 billion in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Spending on branded ads was essentially flat at $4.1 billion. Both categories had been up over 20 percent the previous two years.

Meanwhile, spending on corporate and disease-awareness commercials—a fraction of drug advertising—rose 44.4 percent to $523 million. The industry guidelines called for more disease awareness ads, such as Pfizer's campaign on erectile dysfunction and Eli Lilly and Co.'s ads about depression.

If patients are approaching doctors knowing about conditions but not about the competing treatment options, it stands to reason that they are more likely to accept, uncritically, whatever prescription they're handed. And as Carl Elliot explains in a disturbing article in The Atlantic's April issue (sub. req.), drug reps from pharmaceutical companies routinely give doctors huge incentives to push certain drugs rather than less expensive and equally or even more effective options. Doctors increasingly are paid drug reps. Elliot's otherwise excellent piece fails to note that every time the FDA pulls another direct-to-consumer drug ad, it gives the industry reason to throw all of its marketing resources at gatekeepers rather than consumers.

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  1. I am hoping we can start accounting the educational ads as R&D. It is good when the R&D number is big!

  2. “If patients are approaching doctors knowing about conditions but not about the competing treatment options, it stands to reason that they are more likely to accept, uncritically, whatever prescription they’re handed.”

    As opposed to patients who see branded advertising, who would never uncritically accept whatever prescription they’re urged to get. You don’t get to have two positions on whether patients are capable of critical thinking.

    “…drug reps from pharmaceutical companies routinely give doctors huge incentives to push certain drugs rather than less expensive and equally or even more effective options.” As opposed to the advertising departments of phramaceutical companies, who would never routinely give televisions huge incentives to push certain drugs. You don’t get to have two positions on that, either.

  3. Hey joe, you said something similar to what I was thinking. I’m going to go check my temperature! 🙂

    But I do think that advertising is fine…I get sick of seeing all the drug commercials, but I think it’s good to see drug and disease awareness, even if it’s coming from a profit making angle.

  4. I think it’s good to see drug and disease awareness, especially if it’s coming from a profit making angle.

  5. even if it’s coming from a profit making angle.

    Seems like a segment of the population DEMANDS they have a disease of some sort.

  6. drug reps from pharmaceutical companies routinely give doctors huge incentives to push certain drugs

    Such as what?

  7. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a trade paperback put out by Consumer Reports–the title was something like “Fifty Products That Changed the 20th Century”–and it mentioned that when the birth-control pill was invented, restrictions against drug advertising meant that the company could not come out and tell people “We’ve invented a safe and effective oral contraceptive”, so the news could only spread like a rumor via word-of-mouth.

    I’m sick of drug commercials too, but banning them would be a cure worse than the disease.

    Except for those damned Enzyte commercials. I’ve already told my boyfriend “You are NEVER getting laid if you smile like THAT.”

  8. “I think it’s good to see drug and disease awareness, even if it’s coming from a profit making angle.”

    I thought the same until I saw a commercial that pointed out that I needed medication for “restless leg syndrome”. I’m not suggesting any sort of regulation or infringement on anyone’s right to market products…I’m just saying.

  9. drug reps from pharmaceutical companies routinely give doctors huge incentives to push certain drugs

    Such as what?

    Neurontin, which is used to cure just about everything these days.

  10. Is anyone else intrigued by the sorts of drugs that are NOT advertised to consumers? My sons and I have had 5 million ear and sinus infections since the elder was born in 1998, but I have never seen an ad for an antibiotic, but I’ve seen dozens of ads for conditions that can be summarized as “fat, sedentary and past 40.” Now, why do you suppose that is? (No, I’m not calling for adoption of any kind of policy, I’m just curious as to whether anyone else has noticed this.)

  11. I have never seen an ad for an antibiotic, but I’ve seen dozens of ads for conditions that can be summarized as “fat, sedentary and past 40.”

    Aren’t most, if not all, antibiotics unpatented these days? Not a lot of money to be made pushing generic products.

  12. No, I mean “what incentives”?

  13. I love the drug reps. They give my doctor tons of free samples. My doctor gives me so many samples (of the allergy drugs I use) that I occasionally profit from my visit. Now that’s service!

    Don’t fuck with my free meds, g-man!

  14. Yes, we need to make sure people aren’t taken advantage of by greedy powerful men who would tell the consumers anything to get a little extra money and power.

    So of course, the best way to make sure people aren’t exploited by the greedy and power hundgy is to have the government regulate what they are allowed to know about it!

    Only when drug companies are as responsible, and as reliable, and as trustworthy as government, can we ever trust drug companies. Only when drug companies face the same sort of responsiblity and accountability that our elected officials face, can we be safe!

  15. RC Dean,

    It’s all about the big cushy pens. The ones with the words “Flomifar (Flamephederine anhydrate)” on the side.

  16. The reason I ask is that my sister-in-law is a drug rep. The only “huge incentives” she gives to docs are plastic office toys and pens, and the occasional free lunch for the office.

    Unbeknownst to many pharma-hatas, there is such a thing as a federal anti-kickback law that prohibits most anything meatier than that.

  17. and the occasional free lunch for the office

    So there IS such a thing!

  18. Funny (I hope) story about loot drug reps give out:

    I sometimes have to review applications for various licenses with criminal histories. One applicant had a stretch of incarceration at the Texas State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. His cover letter for his application, which included his explanation for his crime, was on Zoloft letterhead.

  19. Speaking of drug companies. How about:

    The War On Unpatented Drugs.

  20. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called for a two-year moratorium on advertising new drugs, saying commercials drive up health care costs.
    Thirty-five percent of American adults favor such a ban,…

    “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; … ”

    An archaic concept, I suppose, and best ignored for your own good.

    All this foo-faroo follows from the (also) unconstitutional “gate-keeper” privileges showered upon doctors.

  21. hello! http://www.areaseo.com/contacts/ google pr. Web Site Analysis, SE marketing, High Rankings. From google pr .

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