DTCPA don’t play

By Amanda King

Voices Editor

You’re sitting on the couch, scrolling through channels just trying to find something interesting to watch.

You decide to stop on a new Hallmark movie, or maybe a Friends re-run, and a few minutes in you’re hit with a commercial break. Maybe it’s that new Samsung cellphone, or perhaps a 2020 Subaru Outback with zero percent financing for the first 63 months. Oh boy!

Depending on where you are on the globe, there are a million different advertisements you’ll see on a daily basis.

But there are only two countries in the drug advertisement. One is New Zealand, but the other? You guessed it America.

You’ve seen them, those commercials with happy music in the background, people of all ages and ethnicities smiling and buoyantly strolling through sunshine all while a calming narrator lists out the potentially fatal side effects of using the commercialized medication.

This is called direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA); that is, when pharmaceutical companies promote prescription products directly to the public, usually via the media as per the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As you could probably guess, DTCPA causes big problems within both the professional healthcare community and the general public.

People often don’t pause at the list of serious side effects which are often very serious, and sometimes include death.

See, most advertised drugs are shown in the media before they’ve been tested for long-term effects and contrary to popular belief, the FDA does not approve DTCPA commercials before they air.

Because DTCPA products aren’t tested long- term or reviewed by the FDA before release to the masses, several drugs have been pulled from the market for unknowingly adverse side effects.

Although the Federal Drug Administration does place restrictions on
DTCPA, the NIH’s National Library of Medicine reports that it is also “the most prominent type of health communication that the public encounters.”

Moreover, the FDA’s regulations on advertising by pharmaceutical companies have only continued to drop as time passes; in fact, in 2004, the FDA eliminated the requirement of listing out all side effects in print and approved the showing of only the “major risks.”

This restriction easing, in addition to the allowance of simpler language that consumers can easily understand, directly correlates to the deluge of DTCPA that you see every day.

More to the point, DTCPA compels people to believe that they need certain drugs to improve their health when generally, most viewers have no need for advertised medication.

In fact, according to Business Insider, ADHD medication is prescribed nearly 25 times more often than in the United Kingdom which does not
allow DTCPA.

Furthermore, the U.S. has the highest population of people taking antidepressants per one thousand people the most common DTCPA culprit when in fact, less than a third of that population has actually seen a medical professional within the last year.

An even greater, overarching problem caused by DTCPA is felt by healthcare professionals.

When the public sees a pharmaceutical advertisement like any advertisement inevitably someone will feel that they want, or in a lot of cases, need it.

And when that someone schedules an appointment to tell a doctor what medication they think they need, this becomes a completely insolvable issue.

One of two things happen: Either the doctor feels pressured to prescribe a certain medication because the patient has requested it, regardless of whether said patient needs it or not; or, the doctor does not prescribe the requested medication, and the patient becomes upset at hearing a
no, and usually hops from doctor to doctor until they can procure the prescription they want.

Any doctor who refuses is backed into a corner when that angry patient posts a negative review of the practice because doctors can’t even respond without violating the Hippocratic Oath that all physicians must swear to protect patient confidentiality.

Still not convinced that there’s a problem here?

How about this: DTCPA actually increases healthcare costs.

In a 2013 survey by Richard Meyer for World of DTC Marketing, 37 percent of doctors said that they often prescribe name brand drugs instead of
cheaper, generic equivalents simply because the name brand option is what the patient requested.

Perhaps unknown by many, name brand pharmaceuticals cost anywhere from 30 to 80 percent more than generic versions. So really, in addition to requesting medication that isn’t necessary, you’re asking to spend more money than said medication usually costs.

Prescription medications are not accessories. They are not handbags or credit cards. They are pharmaceuticals, which should only be used if needed and even then, under the care of a certified healthcare professional.

They need to be prescribed for a reason. There are possible side effects in taking any medication, and seeing an advertisement on television
for a medication that seems like it could help you does not make you a qualified medical professional.

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