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Ask Your Doctor if This Big Pharma Scam Is Right for You: The Dangers of a Drugged Up America

In medicated America, the fix for every problem is just a prescription away. Except that it's not.
 
 
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Butterflies waft across a beautiful field of spring flowers. A delightful young family bicycles joyously down a country lane. A couple on a park bench leans sensually into each other. A 40-something woman's face radiates with both perfect beauty and internal happiness. "All's right with the world," is the message... as long as you've taken your dosages of Lunesta, Celebrex, Cialis, and Botox.

Welcome to medicated America, where the fix for every problem--from incontinence to erectile dysfunction, stiff joints to mood swings, weight gain to wrinkles-- is just a prescription away. Thus the beautiful images, stirring music, attractive actors, and soothing words in the omnipresent, multibillion-dollar kaleidoscope of drug advertising by Pfizer, Merck, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and other giants of Big Pharma--all pitching their particular brand-name nostrum directly at us hoi polloi (the industry spends a fourth of its income on ads and other promotions, nearly double its expenditures on research and development). The corporate come-ons typically conclude with a phrase that has achieved cliche status in America's vernacular: "Ask your doctor if 'Suprema Wundercure' is right for you."

 

The better question, though, is one that cartoonist Dan Piraro expressed in one of his "Bizarro" panels: "Ask your doctor if playing into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry is right for you."

One would assume that in a rich, medically advanced, health-conscious nation like ours, dicey decisions about whether to allow a particular pharmaceutical product into our bodies would be among the most rational we make--as determined by (1) the best science available, (2) the strict moral duty of medical purveyors to "First, do no harm," (3) good government regulation, and (4) the profession's fear of public reproach and legal punishment. One would, however, be wrong on all counts:

  • Science has been supplanted by rank hucksterism
  • The strictest "moral duty" of corporate executives has been reduced to maximizing profits
  • A "good" regulation is one that's good for profit seekers
  • Public reproach is just a momentary embarrassment to be covered over by corporate image makers
  • Legal "punishment" never includes jail time, but only a fine that's easily absorbed as a necessary cost of doing business by these immensely profitable entities.

In the past three decades, America's healthcare system has radically metamorphosed from a public service network (largely run by independent physicians and nonprofit hospitals) into a corporate profit machine--one that  Dr. Arnold Relman, the renowned former editor of the  New England Journal of Medicine , calls the Medical-Industrial Complex. Drugmakers have been among the most ambitious, in-your-face pushers of this transmutation of medicine into just another commodity to be sold by hook or crook. In this system, the concept of "care" has been reduced to "caveat emptor," with the shareholders' interest in monetary gain overriding all other interests.

The DTC contagion

A fast-moving, systemic epidemic called DTC has swept across America, endangering public health, jacking up our costs, and weakening the curative connection between health professionals and patients. DTC stands for  "Direct-to-Consumer" drug advertising. It's a plague of marketing, empowering profiteering corporations to short-circuit the judgment of doctors by using all of the tricks of Madison Avenue (including lies) to convince viewers and readers that (first) they're suffering from a particular malady, (second) the advertiser's brand-name medicine is the very best cure, and (finally) they must go to their doctors pronto to insist on getting a prescription for that specific drug. The essence of this marketing scheme is to turn consumers into sales representatives for drug peddlers. Brilliant.

Prescribing medicine through the television, radio, print, and internet ads of corporations (whose sole motive is to sell more pills) is so crass, so awash in conflicts of interest, and so inherently dangerous that  only two countrieshave ever legalized it: New Zealand in 1981 and the USA in 1997.

 
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