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Big Pharma Ads Make Me Feel Like I Need to Be 'Fixed'

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you can think of a disease, they probably have a pill for you. Dementia? Diabetes? A mood disorder? Hypertension? Fibromyalgia?  You can run, but you can’t hide. Pharmaceuticals are everywhere.

Prescription drug advertisements blanket the American airwaves like a tight N95 mask covering nose and mouth. We see b-roll of happy-go-lucky people smiling and laughing while they play tennis, go antiquing, or ride a merry-go-round and it’s all supposed to distract us from hearing about the side effects.

This medication can cause diarrhea, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, rash, fatigue, hives, heart problems, and sometimes death.

The litany of possible side effects goes on and on in every single one of these ads. But are the possible risks worth caring for the principal problem?

I get it, they’re covering their legal bases, but really, they don’t want you to think about any of that because they want you to stare at your TV and focus on the niceties. They want to divert your attention.

Because of the ubiquity of these ads both on TV and in certain magazines, you might think, “Is there something awry with me?”

Don’t get me wrong, medicine is a necessity and oftentimes required for one to stay healthy. I know my meds are critical to treat my bipolar disorder. But I’m glad the primary pill that treats my mood disorder is lithium, a salt that occurs in nature. The pills are cheap to produce, cheap to buy, and impossible to copyright.

However, without insurance, some meds cost thousands of dollars even just for one month’s supply. Only in America. Truly. Or down under.

The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer marketing and advertising of pharmaceuticals. Doesn’t that sound out of whack? Surely the rest of the world believes in unbiased health care.

Furthermore, doctors are visited by representatives from Big Pharma and given samples of new drugs to dole out to their patients, starting them on new regimens (barring their consent).  The amount of money spent on pharmaceutical ads in America has more than doubled in the last five years to $6 billion in spending. That’s $6 billion dollars spent on you to convince you that a new pill might help with your health.

For example, one fairly new drug for a relatively common mental condition — I’m not going to name names — costs $1500 per month out of pocket. Its generic won’t be available until 2023. So if you don’t have insurance, this drug is basically out of reach. And many insurance companies won’t cover it or much of it anyway because of the price tag.

All of this reminds me of a now-humorous public service announcement circa the 1970s warning of the dangers of children getting their paws on prescription pills. I learned about it from this Busta Rhymes video, and a punk song by the Lunachicks, both of which allude to it.

This is serious

We can make you delirious

You should have a healthy fear of us

Too much of us is dangerous

They can be dangerous indeed. Do we all need to be “fixed?” Maybe. But not so fast. At what price? It seems like television is creating generations of people with health anxiety who constantly fear they are bearing a new ailment. “Ask your doctor about [xyz drug].” It’s a refrain we hear at the end of every single prescription drug ad. And it scares some people.

What is meant to “fix” can make us feel broken. And that’s counterintuitive.

Getty image by Matt Anderson Photography

Originally published: July 8, 2022
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