Peddling pills on TV

I figure that with his talent, training, long experience and ongoing study of the medical journals, my doctor has the knowledge to know if a serious prescription drug is right for me, or whether it will bring on an irreversible seizure that sends me, drooling and gasping, to my final reward.

Therein lies my puzzlement about the practice of advertising prescription drugs to the general public. If only a sawbones can — or should — allow you to take the stuff, why are drug companies running commercials to be seen by anyone with a television set and the inclination to watch Wolf Blitzer?

Be your own doctor

The really big reason drug companies reach so far into their deep pockets for advertising dollars is to get people to assess their own symptoms, decide on their own that they need the advertised drugs and then prevail upon their doctors to write the prescriptions. Patients thus become associate physicians, sort of sous chefs in the kitchen of remedies.

The drug companies, eager to preserve their profitable prescription franchises, yet anxious to create grass-roots groundswells of demand, are having it both ways, using patients to put marketing pressure on professionals. No, you can’t buy the stuff over the counter (if they sold it that way, they’d never get five bucks a capsule for it), but you can bug your doctor to prescribe it for you, and pay the premium price through your local pharmacist. Such a deal.

It’s true that some drugs, such as Prilosec, which I take, move from prescription to over-the-counter status. That happens when a drug appears to propose no mortal dangers to the citizenry as an OTC product, and when the drug company has developed a newer prescription product.

Lower price? fat chance

Many advertising advocates argue that advertising can actually lower the price of an advertised product. Increased demand, they say, means more sales, production in greater quantities, and lower end-cost through the economies of scale.

In the pharmaceutical business, this is nonsense. Face it, if you owned a product that people  simply had to have, and you’d already spent a fortune on it in research and development, and then you found you could somehow produce it more cheaply, would you lower the price?

Neither would I.

These are a few of the things I think about when I watch drug commercials. And when I fork over nearly $150 monthly for the prescription pills sold to me by Harry, our friendly pharmacist.

“That’s a lotta money, Harry,” I tell him.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s awful.”

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