What Big Pharma’s $6.6 Billion Spending Spree Means for Your Health

All of this working-from-home stuff is starting to get funny.

Just this week, a major news anchor was reporting from his home office when the camera revealed something quite stunning. The man had no pants on.

All was well until he pushed his chair back a bit. That’s when hundreds of thousands of viewers realized that, despite the fancy jacket and tie, well, it was all a bit of a cover-up.

It’s that idea that takes me to a study from 2009 by a group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. It’s a study that illustrates why my team and I get up each morning to write to you with a different take on things.

And, yes, we put on our pants.

The group found that every major media outlet, with the exception of CBS, shares at least one board member with a major drug company.

It explains a lot…

Mixed Messages

It explains why major drug recalls hardly ever make the headlines. It explains why the coronavirus coverage is a flat-out biased mess. And, perhaps most curious, it explains why 3 out of 4 commercial breaks include at least one drug ad.

It’s the last one that raises the most eyebrows.

After all, if we need a prescription to get the oh-so-useful drugs in those ads… why are the ads targeted at consumers and not doctors?

The answer reveals a lot about the shape of healthcare in America.

To understand what’s happening, you must understand who the biggest players are in this $6.6-billion-a-year spending spree.

You’ve heard the names before…

  • Humira – An arthritis and psoriasis reliever
  • Lyrica – Aimed at diabetic pain management and fibromyalgia patients
  • Viagra – Do I need to explain?
  • Cialis – Viagra’s stiffest competition
  • Chantix – Helps folks stop smoking (with some proven nasty psychological side effects)
  • Latuda – Initially approved in 2010 to treat schizophrenia – in 2013 it was approved to advertise its benefits for bipolar depression.

And here’s the scariest part…

Combined, the average American sees 16 hours’ worth of ads touting these sorts of drugs each year. That’s an insane figure when we consider the fact that it’s about 16 times more than we spend actually consulting with our primary care doc each year.

That’s exactly the way Big Pharma likes it.

It knows that a third – an insanely high number – of all patients will view these ads and then discuss them with their doc when they finally get some face time.

It’s why we don’t see ads for antibiotics, generics or, the key to it all, drugs that will truly save our lives.

For the most part, the drugs we see on TV are “first world” drugs. They make our date nights end better… relieve itchy skin or pain in our joints… and, one of my all-time favorites, relieve the constipation caused by taking too many drugs (talk about a marketer’s dream come true.)

“Hmmm, Maybe I Am Sick”

In other words, these drugs are specifically not aimed at your doctor.

They’re aimed at you… and the innate human instinct to ponder if life couldn’t be just a little bit better.

The folks behind them know that with the right imagery, the right soundtrack and the perfect promise, folks will ask their doctor for a prescription, and, if he says no, most folks will shop around until they find a doc who says yes.

Until a drug that treated it came along, some toenail fungus wasn’t given much thought… We thought being unhappy or anxious was just a normal part of life and a symptom of problems elsewhere. But now drugs that treat those ailments are in high demand.

Did the problems get worse… or did the marketing get better?

You know the answer.

If you don’t, I’ll leave you with one scary fact.

The only time you’re likely to see fewer drug ads is during a major election year like this one, when politicians dig deep in donor wallets to buy up all the prime spots.

Researchers at Northwestern University found that political ads displace spots for some popular drugs by an average of about 14%. Digging deeper, the study revealed prescriptions for these products fell significantly in the wake of what it called “political shock.”

It proves that many Americans are taking drugs only because the TV told them to.

And, worse, it proves that politics truly are bad for our health.

It’s yet one more reason to turn off your TV.

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