Ads Nauseam Part I – Drugs
America has a serious drug problem, and Big Pharma – – who created it – – is there to help. It’s a $50 Billion a year industry, which is why their TV ads outnumber all other categories. They are the drug traffickers, working in partnership with the health insurance mafia and the doctors, many of whom get kickbacks on the drugs they peddle. They’re only too eager to write prescriptions for any symptom, rather than finding the cause of the symptom. There’s no money in curing disease; there’s a crapload to be made in treatment, continuous, endless treatment.
No better example of this philosophy could be found than the ads for the drug Abilify (aripiprazole). Antidepressants are by far the biggest seller, because so many Americans are depressed (and have good reason to be). For some, though, the drugs aren’t working, so Abilify acts to boost the effect. There are two animated versions of this ad, both featuring a young woman being followed around by a little blue blob – – that’s her depression. After Abilify, she tells us how much better she feels now, but the blue blob is still there, hanging around in the background. It will always be there, you see, so you need to stay on the drugs and you should be fine. That is, if the side effects don’t do you in first.
All the drug ads have a disclaimer, delivered in a calm, reassuring voice, that takes up the last half of the ad. It’s a catalog of possible side effects, most of them pretty nasty. Take (not literally) Celebrex (celecoxib), an arthritis drug. It sounds like celebrate, but with an x! Years ago, PR people told the manufacturers that if the drug has an ‘x’ or ‘z’ in the name, it sounds more scientific, and will therefore increase sales. Hence, Zoloft, Xanax, Vioxx, and so on.
But I digress, which is a side effect of the medication I’m currently taking. So in the Celebrex ad there’s a middle-aged man walking his dog on a sunny beach, while the narrator drones on about how it will improve your life. Then there’s something about balancing the benefits with the risks. Here it comes. “Celebrex is an NSaid like ibuprofen and naproxen, and thus has the same cardiovascular warnings; it may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke, which may lead to death.” Did he just say DEATH? It goes on, “ . . . chance of stomach bleeding or ulcers which can occur without warning, and may cause death.” Holy crap! Why would anyone, but there’s more yet. “Get help right away if you have swelling in your throat or difficulty breathing.” Thanks, but I think I’ll just deal with the arthritis.
Some ads try to evade any responsibility for the drug’s effects, like the drug Uloric (febuxostat), a gout treatment. Wait, we still have gout? Sure. Look at the American diet. Why do you think the CDC tells us that 14% of us – – 43 million – – are diabetics? This goofy ad shows a man carrying a giant Erlenmeyer flask of a greenish-yellow liquid, which represents his uric acid. A silky female voice tells us “A small percentage of heart attacks and strokes, some leading to death, were seen in some studies. It’s not certain that Uloric is responsible.” But it IS certain that drug companies are completely IRresponsible.
Then there what I call the snake oil ads. They seem to promise results, until you look at the language a little more carefully. Second only to antidepressants are the anti-cholesterol drugs, and we’re back to that American diet again, aren’t we? The ad for Plavix (clopidogrel bisulfate) says it “helps clear up some of the plaque.” So it doesn’t clear up the plaque, it just helps clear it up. And not all of the plaque, either, just some of it. I’d say that’s setting the bar awfully low, wouldn’t you?
Let’s not forget the boner pills. These ads are hilarious, loaded with all kinds of innuendo and metaphor. The early Viagra ads showed “Bob”, whose goofy smile never leaves him. That was Amateur Hour. Today Cialis (tadafilil) rules the roost. There are several versions, each with a middle-aged couple. Here they are standing in the kitchen, and they get . . . that look. All of a sudden the water overflows from the sink, spilling all over the floor. Nudge, nudge. “When the time is right, will you be ready?” (I have an answer to that question; it begins with F and ends with You!). Look out, here’s the disclaimer: “Don’t take Cialis if you take nitrates for chest pain, as it could cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure . . . if you have an increase or loss of hearing or vision . . .” Lest one shy away, here’s the punch line: “To avoid long-term injury, get help immediately if you have an erection lasting longer than eight hours.” WooHoo! Four hours! It’s very clever, isn’t it? They’re not promising anything, you know. Just sayin’.
For pure irony, though, you can’t beat Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate). It reduces the risk of stroke for certain conditions (like maybe if you’re taking Celebrex or Uloric). But check with your doctor before you stop taking it, because “stopping Pradaxa could increase the risk of a stroke.” You can’t make this stuff up!
I find it difficult to believe that millions of Americans are willing to roll the dice like this, but if they want to put their lives into the hands of these charlatans, that’s their decision, I guess. My problem is that all these people are pissing all this stuff out, it’s passing through the filters in sewage treatment plants, then ending up back in our drinking water. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants, diuretics, estrogens from birth control, Ritalin for ADHD, and who knows what else? And that could be, well, a prescription for disaster.