4 Disturbing Tactics Big Pharma Uses to Push Its Drugs
Around 1999, the pharmaceutical industry adopted a new strategy in its advertising efforts: direct-to-consumer advertising, which involves selling drugs — and the diseases they’re designed to treat — directly to consumers. Unfortunately, Big Pharma’s efforts seem to be paying off. Drug companies certainly wouldn’t spend over $4 billion a year on direct-to-consumer ads if it wasn’t worth it.
As Martha Rosenberg writes in a recent article that appeared on AlterNet, there are four particularly offensive ways that Big Pharma pushes its drugs on consumers:
1. Convincing people they are sicker than they are
2. Convincing people that their kids are sick
3. Mimicking the marketing principles of more common products like beer or toothpaste
4. Extensive animal testing (although you won’t see this flaunted in ads nowadays)
It’s no secret that advertising works. Big Pharma wouldn’t spend over $4 billion a year on direct-to-consumer advertising if it didn’t mean massive profits.
What is more unknown is why drug ads that sow hypochondria, raise health fears and “sell” diseases are often the most common–and effective–even when the drugs themselves are of questionable safety.
The nation’s fourth most frequent drug ads in 2009 for were Cymbalta, making Eli Lilly $3.1 billion in one year, despite the antidepressant’s links to liver problems and suicide. Pfizer spent $157 million advertising Lyrica for fibromyalgia in 2009, despite the seizure pill’s links to life-threatening allergic reactions. The same year, it spent $107 million advertising the antidepressant Pristiq, even though it also had links to liver problems.
So, how does Pharma dupe us into using unsafe drugs? Today’s drug ads, targeted directly to consumers since 1999, seem like they sell diseases and often cast women, children, the elderly and mentally ill in a bad light. But a quick look at ads before direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) in medical journals shows that drug ads have always done so. It’s just that patients didn’t used to see them.