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Dispense with TV Drug Ads

The U.S. should ban or at least limit TV commercials for prescription medications. Pro or con?

Pro: Unholy Tablets

As many Americans enter rehabilitation centers for prescription drug abuse as for ecstasy, cocaine/crack, methamphetamine, and heroin addictions, according to a recent study from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Too many people have dangerously casual attitudes toward legal medications.

For the general public, TV advertising makes use of these drugs seem like an everyday convenience rather than an important decision worthy of serious consideration. Except for New Zealand, no other country in the world allows manufacturers to market prescription drugs directly to consumers.

The dangers are especially worrisome with newer prescription drugs whose long-term side effects may still be in question, hence Representative Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) legislative effort to restrict TV ads for drugs that have been on the market for less than three years. Unfortunately, Waxman’s guidelines lost out in Congress, but Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has proposed restricting ads by stopping pharmaceutical makers from deducting from their taxes the cost of commercials for drugs on the market for less than two years. Both representatives’ proposals make sense.

And in addition to the serious health-related issues these ads evoke, many viewers find them annoying, distasteful, or just plain depressing. The manufacturers jam-pack prescription drug commercials into certain TV programs, most notably the national network evening news broadcasts.

How lovely it would be to sit back and allow the anchorperson to deliver the latest stories—unpunctuated by reminders that osteoporosis, bladder control problems, and erectile dysfunction lurk in the future. TV-watchers who already take the medications for those conditions might not particularly appreciate being forced to think about them every night at 6:30 either.

Con: Information Never Hurts

The incidence of prescription-drug abuse in no way lessens the legitimate need consumers have for the relief medications provide from depression, insomnia, allergies, arthritis, sexual dysfunction, and aging-related problems. Most adults exercise good judgment about their health.

TV viewers who suspect they have any of these problems, especially the many Americans who don’t visit doctors regularly, deserve to hear as much as possible about pharmaceutical remedies. If learning of a new erectile dysfunction drug prompts a viewer to make an appointment with a physician, he may also receive the benefit of an overdue prostate exam.

And patients already taking older prescription drugs whose performance has disappointed them have a right to know about new alternatives on the horizon. What better medium than TV to deliver the news?

Moreover, many doctors neglect to take the time to explain all the potential side effects of a drug. Likewise, many patients fail to thoroughly read all the literature the pharmacy provides with the prescription. The TV commercial may represent the consumer’s most realistic chance of getting all the facts before taking a new drug.

Finally, once the Food & Drug Administration has approved a new drug, why should another government entity second-guess it by restricting communication conduits to the public? The FDA’s imprimatur, combined with that of the physician who ultimately will prescribe the drug, constitutes a reasonable amount of precaution.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek,, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments


If government can spare me from having to watch one more ad for erectile dysfunction drugs (when what I really want to see is the half-time show), I say bravo. On a more serious note, the combination of drug advertisements aimed at consumers and sales efforts aimed at getting doctors to prescribe those same drugs may result in patients getting the most hard-sold drugs rather than the best drugs for their medical conditions. On the other hand, there is a benefit to consumers in knowing about new medicines and their possible side effects.


I totally agree with the above person. Not always is it the case that the TV ads are exploiting people.


With the easy access to information on prescription medication available online, I rather selfishly would prefer not to hear about prostate problems, erectile dysfunction, acid reflux, diarrhea, and bladder-control problems every 10 or 12 minutes. If you've taken a look at TV lately, you'll see drug ads are so persistent, so frequent, and so overwhelming that it's impossible to watch TV without getting the impression that your body and the bodies of your peers and friends are falling into bits and pieces at an alarming rate.

Unbound freedom to advertise on TV has allowed the spread of disease-mongering commercials that list casual symptoms or tell you to rush to a doctor because you might have some life-threatening condition and not even know it. "Oh, and ask about Glycopexoperisterol which may cause itch, hallucinations, hot flashes (regardless of gender or age), sleep eating, sleep business-deal-making and anal leakage."

Just because a drug has been approved by the FDA doesn't mean that a potential patient is qualified to select that drug to treat a condition before he or she even gets to the doctor's office. But the drug ads facilitate such processes, and undermine the work a doctor has to do to make sure the diagnosis and treatment are appropriate. If someone has a bladder-control problem and he or she knows that such and such drug can treat it, that's the end of that for most people, and they'll show up, declare their problems, and ask for the drug. I've seen it happen in doctor's offices.

If I'm feeling bad, I'll go online and check to see if there's a medication out there I want to discuss with my doctor. If not, I don't want to be assailed by constant reminders of ill health every hour or every day. There is a reason that non-hypochondriac consumers abhor drug ads on TV. We'd much rather watch ads for new computers, cars, cell phones, financial-planning services, and toys for our kids.


Please, get these ads off the air. If I need information regarding a drug, I will do the research and not rely upon a 60-second self-serving commercial. If I am not feeling well, I will discuss this with my provider, and we will come up with a solution. And it may not be drug-related. Unfortunately, there is no pill to instill common sense and good judgment.


I have come to the point where if it's advertised on TV, I don't want it. It would have to be overpriced for the manufacturer to pay for advertising, with unreliable, self-serving, distorted--and often downright untruthful--claims. I find the medical ads especially repugnant, instilling false hopes and imaginary illnesses in the gullible public. When they have to invent a new scientific-sounding so-called illness to promote some new expensive drug that they haven't yet found a productive money-making outlet for, that is going way beyond what should be allowed.


As a TV viewer, I find drug ads more intrusive than the average commercial, in part because they tend to be longer (although I have to admit that the juxtaposition between the images of the newly happy and carefree drug consumers and the list of potential side effects to be absurdly entertaining). But more important, I think the ads do a disservice, because they encourage people to go to their physicians with a grocery list of meds that they think will solve their problems. One of the reasons for the overprescribing of antibiotics--which has led to the rise of drug-resistant strains of bacteria--has been consumer demand. What unforeseen consequences could arise from the widespread use of medications that are now being heavily promoted as though they are just another lifestyle choice?


I agree with rr's statement, with the exception of two words.

"TV viewers who suspect they have any of these problems, especially the many Americans who don't visit doctors regularly, deserve to hear as much as possible about pharmaceutical remedies [for medical conditions]." Let me sum it up like this: I can give you lots of information on how to build a plane. Could you then build the plane? My point is, this constant stream of information to people in the form of TV advertising serves no real aim except to increase sales of pharmaceuticals. Leave the medical decisions to the experts, doctors and pharmacists, who are trained in pharmaceuticals. I would immediately ban all direct-to-consumer advertising and severely restrict the terms of access for all drug reps to doctors. At the end of the day, for the large pharmaco's, it's all about cash. Take it from someone who knows...


It is the greed of the pharmaceutical industry snake-oil salesmen that is contributing to our health-care breakdown. These drug ads clutter the airwaves with visual and auditory pollution. What I would give for someone to sell me a device to block TV ads. If you know how we can get one, please tell us.


Just think of the possibilities of new drugs that would be developed if big pharma didn't spend the money on advertising but rather on research.


Dispense with the ads. Most of the time they are misleading. A 30-second time slot isn't even enough to start to explain the side effects of these medicines.


First: Establish that it is a medication. Second: Give imperative information.


There is some justice in women having to watch erectile dysfunction ads, since we've had to hear about tampons for ages.

If you believe TV commercials for medications, you need to wake up. If you believe your doctor, you might be a little better, but I wouldn't be too confident.

Go for a walk, and get some fresh air and sunshine.



Oh please stop them. The mute button on my remote is all but worn away from mashing it every time one of those horribly depressing adds comes on.


The disclaimers are so horrendous ("side effects may include itching, dry skin, stomach distress, liver failure, cancer and death") that even when my doctor suggests something, if I have seen the ads, I hesitate.


How do I explain to a 6-year old about ads for erectile dysfunction, birth control, and herpes medications?

The "adult only" advertising appears regularly during family TV hour. We are increasingly limited in what we can watch as a family because of these ads, and the content of the shows themselves.

The new "jammin" Viagra ad is excruciating--I feel so embarrassed for those actors.

Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau

DTC advertising, in conjunction with direct-to-physician marketing, provides a one-two punch. Prescribers are bombarded by an army of 90,000 to 100,000 sales reps knocking on their doors as well as their own patients marching in demanding the latest pills they saw on TV.

This combination is incredibly effective (aka, profitable) for the pharmaceutical companies.

Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau
Former Drug Rep
Writer/Director of "Side Effects"

Ken Cottrell

I'm sick of being marketed to on a non-stop basis--by drug companies and everybody else. Netflix wins!

But I still endure the damage done to others who have not unplugged from "the Borg." I have no intention of telling others what they should or should not put into their bodies, but, as I personally wish that there not be tobacco and alcohol advertising, I feel even more so about drug advertising.

There is a reason that we go to specialists--doctors--who are better equipped to determine what is really happening with our bodies.


All these drug ads are causing people to become hypochondriacs, thinking they have every disease in the book, therefore making it impossible for anyone with a real reason to see a doctor able to get an appointment.

I am revolted by all these drug ads, Big Pharma, and the healthcare industry in general.

Get rid of all this crap on TV!

Tom G

What if no one was supporting the primary revenue source for most TV news broadcasts?

Where would the networks revenues come from without the pharmaceutical industry?

Fortunately, I rarely have to see the damn things because 95% of the TV I see is on a time delay so I can skip the commercials.

I use MCE, but TIVO and most digital cable converters are available with recorders that can let us avoid most commercials.


According to a government investigation, Big Pharma spent $30 billion on drug marketing in 2005, up from $11 billion in 1997. The use of painkillers has risen 88% in 9 years. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the drug oxycodone increased in use by 600% over the same period. Now contrast this with the fact that in the wealthiest nation on Earth more than 45 million of its citizens don't have health insurance or any reliable method of seeking preventive care.

Tired of TV

The Big Pharma companies called themselves ethical to distance themselves from the "patent drug companies" that sold drugs over the counter and made questionable advertising claims. Now Big Pharma has joined the hucksters to help the bottom line. Note that they caution, along with all the disclaimers, "ask your doctor" (who has no time for questions). Henry Waxman--good plan

IEugen R

As one of those who cannot afford health insurance and has to pay full price for medications, every trip to the pharmacy leads me to think of what percentage of the rip off price I have to pay is due to the advertising done by pharmaceutical companies and their legions of medical representatives, giving away all kind of office supplies and not exactly the cheap version of them. After delivering their goods, they get into planes and go into these fancy "mandatory meetings" they have at various times during the year, to be held only at the fanciest hotels. All paid in part by me. It's not fair!
No more advertising.


Okay, I'm a teen growing up in this generation of TV and mass advertising. The thing is: No one really cares that 1 million people switched to Viagra. And honestly, the commercials for PMS are also the same way. I mean, if you have to tell us about it, can't you at least sum it up a bit?


Get rid of the drug commercials. Put the money into illness prevention. When more people know how to care for their bodies rather than make them malfunction, the drugs will not be necessary.


Prescription-drug advertisement to the general public should be banned completely. If the drug is so risky that it requires a doctor's expertise to use, the general public can't be trusted to make an informed decision. If the drug is safe for use by the general public, it should be over the counter, not prescription.

Shakir Rahim

There are several flaws in the argument presented by the con article in this debate. First, however, the critical issue of the nature of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is omitted in this debate. These advertisements are not the objective and reasoned presentation that these articles suggest. Generally, these advertisements are manipulative, as they are designed to sell the most product to the highest number of people. While purchasing a superfluous good or service prompted by a convincing advertisement is not harmful to an individual, when one makes health-care decisions on a similar basis, it is. Drug advertisements employ emotive manipulation by way of positive imagery, upbeat music, and an exploitation of health fears to shift the viewers from a rational mind set to an irrational one in order to convince them to buy their product. To appeal to the widest audience, they are particularly ambiguous about the symptoms of a disease or disorder, often identifying common feelings like "stress, fatigue, and shyness" that may or may not be caused by a health complication. Additionally, they misinform the viewer about potential side effects, in direct contradiction to the con article's point. Advertisements utilize sped-up voices to list the side effects of the drug, amid background music and distracting imagery. This ensures the viewer is paying less attention to the side effects of a drug and more attention to what is being sold on screen. Finally, these advertisements purchase credibility by convincing popular media figures (e.g. Aaron Brown of CNN appearing in newscast-like ads for drug companies) and thus introduce factors irrelevant to objective health-care treatment into the equation.

These advertisements also have a negative impact on the quality of health care from a medical perspective. The ads are designed to convince the public at large (and this is hinted at in the con article) that new drugs are better than generics. Though this may be the case in some instances, it is advertised as the case in all instances. The ads often imply scientific breakthroughs that seem accurate to the untrained eye. Merck spent $160 million advertising Vioxx in 1999, and sales were up 400%. The reason certainly wasn't Vioxx' breakthrough benefits, but rather its lofty advertising budget.

Additionally, these ads convince individuals to take drugs for nonexistent problems. They convince individuals that they have disorders and diseases, especially broad ones like ADD, ADHD, SAD, and certain manifestations of depression, by way of the tools described in the above paragraph. GSK hired the public relation firms Cohn & Wolfe to first convince Americans of the existence of the disease SAD, and then sold the drug Paxil to treat it. The U.S. referenced incidence rate of this condition was 1.6% in 1989, but the campaign advocated a 10% incidence. Though in a perfect world doctors would screen these individuals, in reality doctors are pressured by patients to prescribe said drugs and comply. They need the income, and if they don't comply, the patient (convinced of the drug's efficacy) will find a doctor willing to prescribe. Thus, people are taking these advertised drugs to treat conditions they don't have. In a 1999 FDA survey, it was found that 50% of those who requested drugs they saw on TV received them. Finally, these ads tremendously increase costs to the health-care system. They result in numerous unnecessary doctor visits and unnecessary prescriptions that cost more money. The money drug companies spend on marketing is also passed down to the consumer; the figure totaled $7.5 billion in 2005 alone.

The other points brought up by the con article are equally inaccurate. The solution to those Americans who do not visit doctors regularly is not to use TV to diagnose health problems. It is tremendously misleading to equate a 30-second advertisement as with an appointment with a doctor. The nature of the doctor-patient relationship that allows health advice based on individual factors cannot be replicated on a TV screen. Furthermore, the reason the FDA restricts communication about drugs is not that it believes they are harmful, but rather because they are harmful if not prescribed and distributed in an appropriate manner. It is laughable to compare a 10-second blip on side effects on the TV to a discussion with your doctor.

There is a reason nearly all MDCs have banned this form of advertising. It has absolutely no place in a health-care system, aside from boosting the bottom lines of pharmaceutical corporations. These ads corrode the role of doctors in advising on prescription drugs, they dramatically mislead the public, and they burden the health-care system.


I would imagine most of the posters here against pharma advertising are the same people who would support universal health care.Your POVs are inverse. Pharma ads reach far beyond what you see on TV; in fact, off-TV ads are extremely targeted and relevant to those to whom they are exposed. Therefore that becomes a utility for a patient or potential patient. To say that all ad spending is creating health-care cost issues is ignorant because it does not occur in the vacuum of TV, and the U.S.'s astronomical total health-care expenditure is made up of only 10% spending on the pharma sector. The majority goes to physicians, hospitals, and health insurance companies. You might actually perceive the benefit of a pharma ad once it is relevant to you at some point in your life.

I challenge everyone to study universal health care. Then you will understand how flawed the system already is--and maybe appreciate how much Americans can screw it up even more. Our system is not the problem; the people and American unhealthy culture in the system are the problem.

Wait time, costs, time of visit, quality of care, etc., etc., etc., could all become better or would be better if Americans were proactive in taking care of themselves. I love the hypocrite who complains about insurance costs, side effects, and wasted time in the waiting room yet has no consideration for his own human power to prevent that. The lack of will in Americans to take care of themselves is what feeds bottom lines. The logic: An increase in unhealthy individuals equals an increase in health-care utility, which in turn increases revenues for the party supplying care.


There are so many claims on here that are from spun sources; I advocate pharma ads in that they are relevant to most people they are exposed to. Again, keep in mind, not all advertising occurs on TV; it's only one slice of the pie.

Conner: You are a teen and immature, so of course you don't care that 1 million people switched to Viagra. But your 60-year-old neighbor with that problem might, and therefore might ask his doctor, "Hey, why are people using this vs. that? Will it work for me?" After that, it's the doctors call.

Eugene R: I'm surprised that, through advertising, you are not aware of the many assistance programs there are out there to help you pay for your meds. Try PPARx, and all big-pharma manufacturers have stellar PAP programs. You can't expect someone to reach out and help everyone like you, but the help is there; you just have to go get it. Everything else you mentioned is true of pharma pre-millennium, not today. Trust me, any pharma rep would tell you about "the good old days" that have ceased to exist.

Richard: Your numbers may be accurate, but your source, I'm sure, failed to break down what goes into "marketing costs." Someone reported that with an ill agenda. The common reader does not know that advertising is only a small fragment of marketing--and therefore associates most or all of that $30 billion to ads. However, among other things, marketing includes selling costs, packaging, consumer research, advertising, etc.

Moreover, please try to correlate oxycodone, a generic pain killer, to advertising spending. You can't, not recently at least. Oxycodone's rise in use is the product of irresponsibility and culture (à la ecstasy).

Last, this is to everyone, because this doesn't get enough coverage: Please break down the 45 million Americans who are uninsured into subsets. Most of the 45 million are: a) Illegal immigrants; plus b) the extremely affluent who opt not to cover themselves and just pay out of pocket; plus c.) recent college grads not fortunate enough to land a job straight out of school; plus d.) donut-hole Medicare part d'ers.

Given the above, our figures of the uninsured don't look as bad as they did. But you wouldn't know that, because too many Americans are drones to the media and listen to anything they claim.

So instead of watching the news tonight at 6:30 p.m. EST and not being bothered by irrational news and drug ads, go Google something. Learn about the world from a credible resource, but be wary of rogue Web sites. But hey, you still won't escape the drug ads now on the Web, but they're less obnoxious and lead you to Web sites with a lot of good information you can chose or not chose to expose yourself to.


The USA is a hypocritical country. Janet Jackson's barely visible nipple (unless you were a horny teenage boy with a fast finger on pause and slow-mo) caused the President to react. Yet every five minutes we have to hear about "erectile dysfunction" (by the way, baby boomers, it is called impotence--ED is a buzz word used to make you feel young and normal, and it means you are too old for sex and should finally give your spouse a break). On a serious note, how absurd that I need to hear about four-hour erections in mixed company with children around 24/7 (and that is no warning; it is such a deceptive ploy to make you think that this is possible). The least they could do is say talk to your doctor about side effects. The government better make its mind up. If it is OK to say that, we should be able to discuss wet vaginas on commercials and excessive wetness and what can be done about that? We also should not be so prude that we are the only country you can get arrested in for sunbathing topless, bar theocracies.


A patient is not a consumer. What is needed is education, not advertisement. Pharmaceutical companies are not going to give an objective education.

If education of the public is required, it should be provided through impartial programs, government funded and academy backed.

The USA should follow the example of many European countries such as France, where such advertisements are mostly forbidden and in any case, very tightly regulated.

It is so easy to manipulate people when it comes to matters as sensitive as their physical or mental health.


Drug companies should spend less money on ads and more on making their drugs less dangerous. Is it not enough that we spend hours in the doctor's office waiting to see the doctor because he is being visited by the drug company's reps? (So we, the patient, have to wait.)

Health care--I propose that we move to another label, such as medical financing.
Debates on "health care" should be reserved for the subject of caring for health, not medical financing. What we are really talking about when we are debating health care is medical finance--how to pay for medical care; it is related to finance. I'm in no way suggesting that all the debating going on under the title of health care be changed (please continue), but rather the title we give to this subject should be changed.

Specifically, call it what it is, how to pay for medical services. Health care is about education and methods to better our health prior to needing medical finance. If the title health care is reserved for the discussion of our actual health, we may become a more healthy nation. Instead, we just discuss how to cover the drug and insurance cost, and because of the title we give the discussion (health care), health care is misunderstood, mislabeled, and in effect does not truly exist.

Labeling these issues correctly would not only open a new discussion on the very important subject of our national health, but also free up discussions and debates on the issue of how to pay for medical services, drugs, and insurance responsibilities we all have. Give them both the attention they deserve--they are not at all the same thing.


I got rid of TV long ago. The programs are inane, and the ads are both inane and lies.


The name says it all.

After the makers of Boniva hired a popular actress as its mouthpiece,my own HCP foisted off a sample dose of the latest wonder drug.

I checked it out with my personal pharmacist, who had his own wife come up front to relay to me her devastating side effects from just three doses of this poison. I checked online and found literally thousands more women with similar reports of serious ill effects from this highly promoted drug. These ladies were of varying ages, from very young to elderly.

I have long believed these insidious DTC ads are nothing but a way to line the pockets of all individuals connected to the big pharmaceutical companies.

It's a conspiracy against consumers. Wake up, America.


I often laugh when they are listing the side effects. Most often, the side effects--heart attack, stroke, liver failure, and death--are glossed over with visions of happy people living it up. It's such a no-brainer, yet drug companies are making money from their ads, hand over fist. The drug companies are not in this alone. Their latest-and-greatest death pill comes with the blessing of the FDA. Don't forget the physicians who are more than happy to prescribe it to their patients. As a result, they all make a ton of money and ensure repeat customers with more problems due to side effects. As long as there are people willing to blindly trust these incompetent money mongers and let them do their thinking, the commercials will go on. So will the need to keep these brain dead people sick.


Everyone loves to criticize drug ads, but what about the zillions of dollars spent on political ads--lots of misinformation and character assassination, and yet no one objects. Of course the politicians do not want to change or reform, and neither do the broadcasters who gleefully accept the ad dollars. There has never been one political ad that truly persuaded me to vote for anyone, but they have made me disgusted enough to strongly consider not voting. Political campaigns should be publicly financed and tightly law-controlled. So much waste of monies that could be used for better societal purposes. At least drug ads do provide secondary societal benefits of disease and treatment information and education to patients and consumers, There are no secondary benefits to political ads. Everyone, let's act on this.


From now on, I'll always "ask my doctor" why he prescribes any medicine that has been advertised on TV, radio, magazines, and/or newspapers directed to the general public. I have been taking Lipitor for years. I will stop tonight.

I will forward this article to my doctor who has prescribed it and let him know that I will no longer take any medicine advertised to the general public.


The U.S. is the only rich/developed country in the world (other than New Zealand) in which DTC drug ads on TV, radio, and print are legal. Why? Oddly enough, we have William Jefferson Clinton, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and a lot of cowardly Congressional representatives to thank. What will it take to join the rest of the enlightened world?

Caroline Howard

It makes me angry every time I see an ad for Lipitor on television. My husband lost his memory several years ago as a result of taking that medication. It has been confirmed by specialists. He was a normally functioning adult until the Lipitor destroyed the brain cells. I am very angry.

Antonio P.B. Sarmento

You certainly don't know how widespread TV advertising of drugs (medicine and beverages with alcohol or not) is in Brazil. Medicine is always good, and people taking it never die. Alcohol makes you happier and strongly increases your success with the other sex. Using condoms will protect teenagers from early pregnancy. Condoms are distributed free at the schools. So why should they delay their sex life if it is so rewarding? All of which goes on with the blind view of government. Come to live with us: Be happy and gay.

Stan Burton

Advertising in all its forms is unethical. The patient is not served because he or she really has no good grasp of whether the drug is safe or effective for his or her unique situation. It is unethical to advertise to doctors, because the drug companies never give the whole unvarnished truth about their products, and those studies they fund that fail to cast a rosy picture of their product never get published. The only reason the Vytorin study was published was that Congress was asking some very pointed questions about it. As it was, the companies delayed the release for over a year, making about $3 billion dollars in the interim on that one product. Not to mention the unethical nature of the trinkets and the continuing education classes in resort destinations and the honorariums to talk up their products at conventions and such. In the 1980s, there was a cardiologist here in Houston who had a pacemaker-shaped pool built in his backyard, and it was paid for by a pacemaker manufacturer. This sort of relationship would be called incestuous, except that is frankly unfair and insulting to people who actually partake in incest.

RN Now

I am currently an RN and have plenty of concern about the perception of our medicine here in the U.S.

Make no mistake, we are at the top when it comes to trauma, but wade into the pool of post trauma or routine medical care and ooh, it gets ugly in a hurry. Ads directly to consumers are not only a bad idea but also downright dangerous, and the MDs who prescribe Drug X or Z to every patient regardless of medical history are criminal. I couldn't count all the times I have asked patients why they are taking a med only to get a blank stare and a response like "I don't know," or they say that it is only since they were admitted to the hospital, and they have no history of symptoms related to that med, no reasoning for the prescription in the patients chart.

Patients and doctors need be on the same page for the best outcome. Ads and reps destroy the delicate balance of the patient doctor relationship. That can spell illness or even death for you, your family, or a friend.

Think about it, and know everything about each drug before you choose to stake your health on it. Quite often, drugs are given to treat side effects of drugs already being taken. I personally got my own father off of 26 of the 29 medications he was on and saved his life. Most of the drugs were treating side effects of other drugs, and some were simply unnecessary. Like most people who are elderly, my father was just trusting his doctors to know what to do.

Never just trust your Doctor. Doctors are just people. They make errors, and they are often rushed and fail to take the time to look closely at your history and what medicines you are already on; they rely on the pharmacist to watch for dangerous (usually only the fatal kind) drug interactions. Again, they make serious errors all the time. Believe me, we nurses know. We see it.

Self educate and change your habits first. That is the best easiest way to solve health problems.

My vote is: Kill the ads and nix pharm reps. Please, for the good of all.


Drug ads are not intended to provide medical information. They are purely meant for advertisement and to increase drug sales. I agree that they are often misleading and can lead to unreasonable expectations of the benefits of the drug. Making a decision about taking a medication should clearly be the responsibility of the patient and physician and not any pharmaceutical company. I think a lot of people are already on many medications, and the last thing they need is another pill. With the pill come the bonus adverse effects and increased risk of drug interactions.


My sister took statins and now has peripheral neuropathy--and is not diabetic and has no other factors for the disease. There are studies in Europe that show a link between the two. I stopped taking statins immediately, since my doctor could not answer the question of whether there was a genetic link to the occurrence. Once I did, my arthritis symptoms disappeared within months. Never again.


Every drug advertisement should 1) be required to state slowly--and before giving the advertising--that "buyer beware" applies to everyone without exception; 2) explain where complete adverse effects from all marketed drugs information may be found; 3) state every consumer is responsible for educating himself or herself on what is being prescribed--not for legal reasons, but for personal well being and the future.

Does successfully suing any doctor or drug company make any patient a real winner? Information up front is prevention, and maybe patients should be allowed to sue lobbyists who push pharmaceutical drugs into our lives. What lobbyists accomplish for pharmaceutical companies is a matter of business skills, so why should they both be responsible?


Correction: "... why shouldn't they both be responsible?" as in both pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists.


The major problem with today's pharmaceuticals is the tendency for physicians to acquiesce to the drug company reps, prescribe a drug, and never consider approaching the problem organically. It is medicate, medicate, medicate instead of doing the hard work of clinical reasoning.


As soon as a commercial comes on the TV for prescription drugs, I hit the mute button or turn to another channel. I hate them.


These TV sales pitches to the uneducated masses have a beneficial side effect. They help associate the consumption of drugs with the side effects.


I am amazed at the ads sometimes. Especially the ones for cholesterol medications. They will state reductions in LDL, but yet in the fine print they will say that this drug has not been shown to reduce heart attacks and/or strokes. There are conditions where statins are recommended and needed, but some doctors are too "Rx trigger happy." It has been proven that exercise and oatmeal can really affect triglycerides, and yet I don't see many ads on that. Some doctors mock vitamins users, but when was the last time you heard of someone of dying of a vitamin C overdose?

jerry gray

The BusinessWeek article was excellent and long overdue. The same information can be found in many books on the overuse of statins.

The promotion of statins as a life saver is just another ploy by the drug companies to sell drugs without any regard whatsoever for the health of the people. Big business at its best.

Take the drug ads off the TV and other media.

jeanne cole

I think it is criminal that the drug companies spend billions of dollars advertising on TV and then turn around and justify charging extremely high prices for the drugs. I have written my Senators and Congressman about allowing this to go on, to no avail. I do not watch these commercials; I have Tivo. What the drug companies should be doing is trying to make drugs affordable to everyone who needs them. Take the ads off the air.


I've had borderline high cholesterol (240 to 260) and high blood pressure (on medication) for 15 years, and a year ago started taking liquid L-arginine coupled with vitamins, a chelating agent, anti-oxidants, etc. My total reading is now down to 145 along with normal readings for HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. I am also completely off my blood pressure meds. This is an all-natural, plant based supplement with no side effects except for more energy and no need for prescription drugs anymore.


Kill the ads and apply the advertising money--up to 50% of the drug costs in some cases--to lowering the price of the drugs.

Barclay Reynolds

Please stop the drug adds on television. Patients ask for drugs by name and never ask about cheaper alternatives. Everyone has RLS and and more now. Stop.


The pharmaceutical companies are no better than the tobacco and alcohol companies. They will say anything to make a sale. The government banned most advertising of tobacco ads years ago, and now it's time to do the same with pharmaceutical companies and alcohol sales. I'm not against any of these products but feel that these companies have overstepped moral boundaries. Maybe if we ever get a government that works for us instead of them, it could happen. The problem is right now the lobbyist and special interest groups are paying our government officials more than we are.

Peter De Gregorio

Drug advertisements should be banned, because most people do not fully understand what any drug does in 30 to 60 seconds.


In 1980, I started taking Lipitor, because my blood pressure was a little high. In 1997, I had a heart attack. Had your January, 2008, article been available to me in 1980, I would have saved myself 17 years of grief. Thank you--I can now educate my children on the pros and cons of drugs.
P.S. I have ED big time.


Drug ads are completely unnecessary for the "health" of Americans. They are solely for business, to raise stocks within drugs companies and increase drug use in America. This is not making us healthier, rather just more on drugs and sicker. This has to be stopped.

connie lankheet

TV and all its ads suck. Time to unplug it and use it only to watch videos.


Only a fool would ask his doctor about any of the medications trotted out during the Pill Pushing Hour (formerly known as the evening news). For every one condition a pill is supposed to solve, the advertisers list, in very rapid succession, a bushel of conditions it causes, many of which sound far worse than the condition treated.

Drugs? Just say no.


I feel that all drug advertising should be banned from television, like cigarettes and alcohol. If you are not sick, the ads make you feel like you should be. I know many people who are healthy and they say seeing these ads makes them feel like they must be sick and missing symptoms. Mental illness might be on the rise because of this.


I am sorry--what was TV like before drugs invaded the airwaves? I see my doctor as a drug pusher. I am so disgusted. Is there a national petition I could sign to get these pharmaceutical Draculas off the air?

Carolyn Gillis

Direct to consumer drug ads are banned in other countries. They are harmful, and they make everything the media says highly suspect. They will not report the truth, because it harms their sponsor--bad stuff.


I've seen ads on TV for Caduet. It has two ingredients. One is Amlodipine and the other is Atorvastatin. With my RxDrugCard, I can get 30 tablets of Amlodipine for $9 and 30 tablets of Simvastatin for $9. I'll bet they are charging more than $18 for this new drug. The unthinking public is going to pressure doctors into giving them something just because it’s new--when something old or generic would do the job for cheaper.


Yah, and maybe we can do something about the countless crap e-mails about Viagra.


I think it is a great idea, right up there with the do-it-yourself Home Apendectomy Kit.


I'm tired of watching the erectile dysfunction ads along with all the other commercials aimed at getting more physicians to prescribe certain drugs rather than other medications--many of them generic--simply to improve the pharmaceutical companies' bottom line. Get rid of the damn pharmaceutical ads.

Rich Link Idaho

Yes, please can the drug ads.


Drug ads are just another product advertisement. Like most ads, they're an interruption. But just because they may cause a potential patient to ask a doctor about a condition doesn't mean the doctor should prescribe it. Doctors need to prescribe responsibly. If drugs cause problems because of off-label use (e.g., phen fen and many others), then the doctors need to be held responsible for malpractice. If a consumer buys laundry detergent and drinks it, is that really the company's problem? No, and similarly, bad prescribing is not the pharma's problem. Like any business, they make a product and advertise to sell it.

Pattie Hunt

Huge amounts of money are spent by the drug companies paying for these ads. Couldn't that money be spent more wisely on lowering the price of medicine for sick people?


The vast majority of people are unable to evaluate meaningfully the risks and benefits of most of the drugs advertised on TV. All such advertising does is make it easier for pharma companies to boost sales of me-too variants of common drugs for which cheaper or generic substitutes exist. All the extra costs of the marketing, and of patients pressuring physicians to prescribe needlessly expensive medicines to them, is being passed on by the pharma companies to the taxpayers and employers through the rigged employer/federal insurance racket.

Positive Ads more sales

I wish they would get rid of the medical ads on TV; they should be on "paid ad" half hour shows, and see who really watches them! I quit watching a show as soon as a medical commercial comes on. Now, I watch premium movie channels, buy my own movies, and rent movies--just so I don't have to watch the medical commercials.

Jon Davis

It's about time to stop the advertising on TV and take the $4.5 billion and lower the price of the drugs that people really need. You can't get them without a doctor--then why advertise them on TV to the general public?


That big agri, pharma, fast food, the Madison Ave., and insurance, interests, in collusion with their Wall Street funders and in-their-pocket fat-cat congressional reps are ravaging this once-great country for their own benefit via their now nearly total control of big media (I give thanks every day for NPR and PBS--isn't Bill Moyers a treasure), is grimly apparent.

Can we recover? Personally, I doubt it, it's too far gone. The ditto-head 30%, the southern-based right-winger republicans will block all rational attempts to reign in the excess power these interests so irresponsibly wield. That 30 million to 40 million 'Merkins listen to and take the likes of Clown Limbaugh and Twerp Hannity as their intellectual and political messiahs means that the rot has reached irreversibility. Once ranked number one, we are now 15th in global quality of life index. This will continue to fall as the economy continues to tank. These ads are a symptom, a symptom of our degeneration, of our demoralization, of, as a merely consuming Wal-Mart'ed society, our sense of uselessness, at once glaring symbols and symptoms of how far we've fallen as a "nation" and point the way to how much farther we'll drop. What awaits us at the bottom is anybody's guess. (I suspect it will be an even more openly military-corporate-fascist pseudo-democracy on the lines of Russia or Israel).

A tragedy indeed. It's amazing really what 10 years of the Republican's "Contract on America" (what ever became of Mr. Delay, by the way) has accomplished. Total collapse. Congratulations go out to, Newt, Grover, W, Karl, Phil, Dick, Rupert, etc. You, your allies are, will continue to be, Disciples of Ruin and, not coincidentally, ruin is what these commercials are all about.

Kevin Dwyer

In the UK, companies aren't quite as free to lie on TV ads. For example, Apple got their hands slapped for implying their phone worked at the speed of light, quite funny really. Lipitor, on the other hand, is ruining people's lives and they don't even know why they are so sick.


I haven't read all of what is being discussed here but I have felt for a long time that prescription drugs would not be as expensive if the companies didn't "have" to pay for advertising of their products. It's common sense to me.


I, too, am really sick of seeing these Big Pharma ads. I would much rather see the old cigarette commercials, and I don't even smoke.

Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo

Only mental illness, avarice and/or shortsightedness or those profiting by the sale of drugs would encourage the advertising by The Legalized Addictive Drug Dealers of America. People do not need to know what drugs are available; that is the job of their doctors. Doctors come in two varieties, those who pay close attention to what the patients say and do, and make judgments based on that and their examinations and tests, and those who take an average of $13,500 a year in kickbacks from Drug Dealers. The latter category of physicians are street Pimps and Pushers for The Legalized Drug Dealers of America.

One Drug Dealer CEO stated that "I want to see every American healthy or otherwise taking our drugs. It will make them healthier." That fellow needs to be jailed.

The goal of Legalized Drug Dealers who invent diseases out of common human tics, and habits, is to addict everyone. What authorities should do is arrest everyone taking any drug which impairs judgment("Do not operate machinery while taking this drug," which is virtually every drug.

With millionaire Pushers/Pimps with doctors degrees pushing every drug conceivable to unwary and innocently, stupid people, America will soon become The land of the Free-baser and the Home of the Addict.

I propose the nationalization of the Drug Industry, placing it where it belongs where the priority is upon finding cures, rather than "treatments" for serious illnesses, not wasting money and time on drugs which kill more people than they heal, because the newest drugs are not designed to cure anything. There has not been a cure found for any disease since Fleming and others discovered what primitive natives have known for thousands of years--plants contain healing power and penicillin was rediscovered by "civilized" Humankind.

Businessweek user

It is a point from a need and usage of the population point of view that I have considered, but the it is an industry that needs to have sharp and perceptive people who are flexible in the product search areas. These kinds of people are hard-thinking academics generally, and they are too fast to be shackled by the speed of government, so it would be counterproductive. Other social industries, however, are not fast, not innovative, and very very slow and need only slow people--these fit nicely into the state sector financed by tax. They are electricity, gas, water, roads.

Barry Margolis

I don't watch as much commercial network TV anymore because of these annoying awful ads. In my opinion, prescription-only medications should be promoted only to doctors, hospitals, and clinics. Consumers should not even know any of these medications exist until they present to a clinic or doctor with a problem.

I watched ABC World News today and there were 5, count 'em, 5 prescription drug commercials with that annoying soft music playing while the (usually) woman announcers explains the horrible possible side effects.

This is a total turnoff and I'm now watching more PBS and cable instead. I only wish I were a Nielsen 'family' so my switching away could be recorded.

john davis

I, like everyone else, am sick and tired of the pharmaceutical companies with their ads on prime time TV. One thing that most viewers don't know is that these drug companies receive billions of dollars from the government's tax money for R & D, then use a considerable amount on advertising, using "tax money" to pay for these ads.

Nancy Oberrath

Not only are these ads extrememly annoying, they are using money that could be used for research. My doctor can advise me, and if I want to know more, I can look online for more truthful details. We don't need to hear all this self-serving stupidity.

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