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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.
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.
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