Should Drug Detox Images in Television Ads Be Used as Risk Warnings?

Should Drug Detox Images in Television Ads Be Used as Risk Warnings?

The influence of drug advertising on television and in magazines has been the focus of many news articles since the recent OxyContin hearings. And it's no wonder: Relaxing, upbeat images in television drug ads distract the consumer from already insubstantial warnings about the risks. Some people don't get the full picture until they're checking into a drug detox program for prescription drug addiction, or asking their wife to drive the car over their leg so they can justify another OxyContin prescription. But what's being done about the advertising?

After a recent analysis of DEA statistics done by the Associated Press (AP) showed an 88% increase in retail opiate painkiller sales, the AP concluded that one of the reasons for this increase is direct manufacturer to consumer drug ads. That is to say that Pfizer, Lilly, Merck and others can advertise directly to the public. A congressional investigation found, in fact, that the amount spent on advertising campaigns to the public increased 330% from 1997 - 2005. In 2001, Purdue Pharma spent $200 million on advertising just for OxyContin.

The FDA is now planning a study to determine whether people have an overly positive impression of the drug despite audio warnings about the risks. However, I think it's possible we may already have an answer to that question: A study conducted by the FDA in 2001, for the purpose of determining the influence of drug advertising, found that 30% of the viewers asked their doctor about the drug after having seen an ad. And 44% of the doctors gave them the prescription.

No word on how many of them are now in drug detox.

Of those who did not ask their doctor about the drug, 67% said it was because they didn't have the condition described in the ad.

The FDA survey also asked viewers how much they trust the information in drug ads. Over 60% of viewers said they trust the ads 'a lot' or 'some'. They may feel differently now if they've followed the OxyContin hearings.

Nevertheless, the FDA has chosen to study this subject again. The money might be better spent getting people who've already seen the ads and fallen prey to all the pretty pictures into drug detox.

Drug companies are required by law to show the benefits and risks equally. Critics claim that the relaxing, pleasant images clearly overshadow the audio warnings about the risks of the drugs. What do you think people are going to notice? The images of happy children, couples in love and people leading productive lives with a background of relaxing, uplifting music and a phone number to call so you, too, can transform your life, or an announcer in the background listing the side effects like an auctioneer on steroids?

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, of the advocacy group Public Citizen, claims, "If advertisers were really interested in getting information about drug risks out, they'd show pictures of those problems, but you almost never see that."

That's right. And until it's mandated by law, we likely never will. But you may see some of those images right in your own household just before you take your wife, husband or kid to a drug detox program that specializes in prescription drug addiction.

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