Why It's Safer to Sell Impotence Than Viagra


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.