4 Creepy Ways Big Pharma Peddles its Drugs
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And seizure and epilepsy drugs, known for major allergic and psychiatric reactions, are also becoming pain franchises. "What's causing your chronic widespread muscle pain?" asks an ad for the seizure and epilepsy drug Lyrica. "The answer may be overactive nerves," says the ad, even though "widespread muscle pain" and "over-active nerves," are not mentioned in the approved labeling for Lyrica, says pharmaceutical reporter John Mack. The military spent $35 million on seizure and epilepsy drugs in 2009 alone, including for migraines, headaches and pain.
And speaking of overkill, ads for genetically engineered injected drugs like Humira, approved to treat serious diseases like Crohn's disease, psoriatic arthritis and chronic plaque psoriasis look like they are designed to sell beer or beauty treatments, not immune suppressing drugs that invite cancers and lethal infections.
DTC ads don't just escalate everyday problems into psychiatric problems, they also escalate real psychiatric problems into irresponsible, sensationalistic stereotypes. Ads for the best-selling antipsychotic Risperdal, widely used in children, and in soldiers with PTSD, suggest that people with mental illness have hallucinatory fears about " boiling rain" and " dog women." The "dog woman" ad, showing a half-dog, half-woman crouched on her elbows, her eyes blackened, furthers the sensationalizing of mental illness with the tagline, "Because relapses are a living nightmare."
2. Your Kid Is Sick
DTC ads don't just convince people they're in need of new drugs, but also that their kids may be, too. And it's been going on for decades.
Long before Pharma convinced parents, teachers and clinicians that millions of US kids had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), kids were said to suffer from " minimal brain dysfunction" (MBD) and "hyperkinesis," two conditions that were essentially the same as ADHD. In fact, so many kids had MBD by 1976 that an ad for the drug Cylert hailed the "Importance of single daily dose to the child, the parents and the teacher," because kids wouldn't have to be singled out anymore at pill time at school. (ADHD has been so huckstered, a YMCA ad spoofs it with the headline, "Before video games, before Facebook, before Ritalin, there was basketball.")
Yet neither Cylert--whose approval the FDA withdrew in 2005 because of liver failure and deaths--or the current ADHD drugs are safe. In 2009, researchers reported that kids are more likely to die sudden deaths while taking them and the American Heart Association recommends electrocardiograms (ECGs) before kids take them. And yet, combined sales of ADHD drugs continue to grow from $4.05 billion to $ 7.42 billion in 2010.
Thirty years ago, it certainly looked like kids were being overmedicated. They were given the antipsychotic Thorazine for their "hyperactivity," " hostility," sleep problems and even for vomiting. Picky eaters and kids who wet the bed were given tranquillizers. Kids with tics, stuttering and school phobia were given the tranquillizer Miltown.
But today, ads promoting drugs for kids continue, and now they are aimed at parents. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference between ads for drugs or ads for sugary cereals! Pharma tells moms to give their kids the bubble gum-flavored ADHD med, LiquADD and the grape-flavored ADHD med, Methylin. The latter campaign, to parents, is " Give 'em the GRAPE!"
DTC advertising has also convinced parents their kids suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) otherwise known as acid reflux disease, which was barely a disease in adults much less kids, before consumer advertising. "GERD Can Be a Big Problem for Little Kids," say award-winning ads for Prevacid, which won a "RX Club" Silver award in 2004. In Europe, kids are treated for another "adult disease" and given chewable Liptitor to lower their cholesterol.