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Pharma Loves Cop Shows: A Look at How Industry Spends Its Money on TV Ads

In a wrap-up of media showcasing Big Pharma’s presence on everything from Facebook to newspapers to TV, Kaiser Health News highlights the big bucks that pharmaceutical companies pump into advertising. In TV alone, depending on which show you’re watching, as much as 38 percent of the ads could be drug promotions. And, even though the outlay represents millions of dollars on Pharma’s part, the ultimate income from these ads is in the tens of billions of dollars.

Whether it’s Facebook or traditional TV and print media, direct-to-consumer drug advertising (DTC) is a literal money machine that leads to wider use of prescription drugs by American adults and children. As a result, drug company greed replaces ethics, common sense and caution, while consumers are left in the wake. Since DTC ads began in 1997, Pharma’s profits can be tallied just in the number of prescriptions sold: Five years before DTC advertising began, Americans took an average of seven prescription drugs a year. Fifteen years later that number had nearly doubled to 12 per year.

To do this — to sell YOU on the idea that you NEED these drugs, DTC advertising whips up fears over both rare diseases and those that are so common they’re not even considered serious until a drug or vaccine comes out to treat them. And once that fear is created, Big Pharma gives you the cure through the same ad, which you respond to by beating down your doctor’s door, demanding that you get this latest, greatest drug.

But are all these drugs what they’re made out to be? Unfortunately no, and with no help from the FDA, which has time again approved drugs that later are shown to be harmful (think Vioxx). Aggressive drug ads telling people to get medication from their doctors are especially unethical in the middle of an opioid epidemic and war on drugs — and more often than not, the only winners are the drug companies.
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