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Patients, Doctors & PhRMA Are Medicine’s ‘Mean Girls’

Updated on December 11, 2015

The American Medical Association (AMA) voted to ban direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising this month. While the vote holds no true power, as the FDA or Congress are the only parties who can legally ban the ads, it’s a bold statement, possibly a warning that the doctors’ largest lobbyist group is ready to take on medicine’s top mean girl- big pharmaceutical companies. But for years prior the AMA was fine with drug ads, so why the change?

Lunesta Pharmaceutical Commercial

Get in Loser, We’re Going Shopping

She’s a walking oxymoron- desired yet hated, beautiful on the outside yet manipulative on the inside, she’s the queen bee, Regina George. Pharmaceutical companies seem to fall in the same category with money galore and an undefeatable drive for profit, but undeniably, they help save lives. And the AMA isn’t looking to push companies into a school bus for the latter reason, but they do need to lower their control over what drugs become popular.

The pharmaceutical industry spent $4.5 billion dollars on DTC ads in 2014, a 21 percent increase from 2013, according to Bloomberg News. The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow drug advertising, so most of those billions are flooding America’s homes like copies of the burn book flying around North Shore High School.

Personally, I’ve never asked my doctor about a drug I saw an ad for. The digitally-enhanced butterflies and “adorable” walking bladder can’t distract me from a long lists of side effects and there’s been major problems with some advertised, shout out to YAZ and Lunesta. But money talks- 28 percent of people polled in Kaiser’s October Health Tracking Poll said they asked their doctor about a drug they saw advertised, and 12 percent left with the prescription. The CDC reported one billion physician visits last year, so 28 percent is a lot of people. There’s two main reasons this is an issue and they both have to do with, “God Karen, you’re so stupid!”

Have you asked your doctor about a drug after seeing its commercial?

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Karen Smith’s No Doctor, Either Are We

We as consumers aren’t stupid, we’re trustworthy. I take everything my doctor says as fact. But we do have Karen’s naiveness, at least I do because I didn’t see any foul play with the commercials until recently; After all, there’s the dreaded list of side effects already mentioned and it’s illegal for them to lie. But Regina’s best weapon is manipulation, even with her never know when you’re on a three-way call attack.

Only 33 percent of pharmaceutical ads for prescription and nonprescription drugs are objectively true, 57 percent are potentially misleading and 10 percent false, according to a study by the Journal of General Internal Medicine analyzing ads aired from 2008-2010. Potentially misleading ads “omitted important information, exaggerated information, made lifestyle associations, or expressed opinions.” False ads were “factually false or unsubstantiated”.

Those statistics alone have me shouting the 5Ws and how? This is why Karen could only commit to a 30 percent chance that it’s already raining, because apparently you can’t completely trust the pharmaceutical companies, or at least their commercials.

PhRMA spokeswoman Tina Stow defended drugmakers in light of AMA’s vote, asserting the commercials help educate the general public.

“Providing scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options is the goal of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising,” Stow said to Bloomberg. “Research shows that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners.”

Technically, Stow is correct, knowledge is power when protecting your health. But if half of commercials are exaggerating or opinionated, am I informed? How does an ad discussing only one medication tell me all my options?

But let’s play devil’s advocate. Even if some ads are misleading, what’s the harm? You still have to meet with your doctor, and trustworthy doctors will prescribe what is best for you in the end. Well, the AMA is made up of 235,000 doctors and medical students and is one of America’s highest spending lobbyist groups, and they’re about to crack like Gretchen Wieners during her Ceaser report.

And None For Gretchen Wieners

She’s just as pretty, rich, and actually nicer than Regina, but she’s not in control. Remind anyone of a certain lobby group who spent more money than PhRMA last year and “banned” ads even though the vote means nothing legally? “Say crack again.”

In addition to the vote, the AMA is launching an advocacy campaign to promote affordable prescription drugs because the commercials carry more than a negative impact.

“Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflated demand for new and expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate,” AMA Board Chair-elect Dr. Patrick Harris said.

The best, and most extreme, example of gauging prices is when Martin Shkreli raised the price of Turing Pharmaceuticals’ AIDS drug by 5,000 percent overnight, from $13.50 to $750 per pill, because in his words, they needed to turn a profit.

“Physicians strive to provide the best possible care to their patients, but increases in drug prices can impact the ability to physicians to offer their patients the best drug treatments,” Dr. Harris said. “In a worst-case scenario, patients forego necessary treatments when drugs are too expensive.”

But as Shkreli reminded all of us, doctors aren’t in control of the prices, and while his price increase was outlandish, it’s not new. The antibiotic Doxycycline went from $20 a bottle in October 2013 to almost $2000 6 months later. Rodelis Therapeutics raised the price of a tuberculosis drug from $500 to $10,800 after acquiring it. Pfizer raised prices on 133 drugs last year, earning an extra billion dollars in quarterly revenue.

Why? Drugmakers are in a self-declared risky business, and overall reported spending $50 billion on R&D with most drugs never receiving FDA approval. If they do become make it, they have about 12 years before cheaper generic drugs go public, and with no government regulation on drug prices, they strive to make the most before death by generic.

CNBC Martin Shkreli Interview

Just Say No to Mean Girls 2

I didn’t watch the surely horrific sequel nor do I hope I have to write a second article on how companies take advantage of their lifesaving drugs- because hopefully it ends. At the core, drug commercials are drug pusher’s tool, convincing consumers the more expensive brand works better, keeping it in high demand, slyly inflating prices usually without us knowing.

So what’s one factor why America has some of the most expensive drugs? Because pharmaceutical companies said so. But if Karen becomes informed and follows Gretchen’s breakdown, the AMA may be on its way to changing the law on pharmaceutical commercials. We all need one another, but no one needs a mean girl. They’d also save over $4 billion a year, so they shouldn’t argue.


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