May cause some rectal bleeding and blurred vision.

Wait a minute, let me get this straight, did you just say that your drug may cause testicular cancer and some brain liquification? Well, in that case, what’s that 1-800 again?

I was watching cable over the Memorial Day weekend, and amid all the Salutes to our Fallen Heroes (mostly involving John Wayne movies), came an overdose of drug ads. Each one seemed to be 90 seconds long. I clocked a couple to make sure that it wasn’t just the time-slows-down-when-you’re-bored-out-of-your-skull effect. The first 30 seconds of each was taken up with the drug’s benefit, though not too specifically, to be inferred not claimed. Over half of these spots seemed to be a solution to my low testosterone problem. (It’s uncanny how they knew. Is it because men with Low T watch a lot of John Wayne movies?)

But then, after the 30 seconds of pitch, came 60 seconds of the mandatory FDA disclaimers. Yikes. Or, in one of the appropriate uses of a bang, Yikes!

These disclaimers were truly hair-raising (and not in the Rogaine sense), especially since they were delivered in the same, soothing tone as the benefit parts of the commercial. And since there were typically so many mandatories, it usually took over a minute to get them all in. So after the announcer talked about how this drug with the mellifluous brand name (like Cyllexify ™or Allurexa™) can solve all your libido-depression-incontinence-fatigue problems, she then started to tell you in the same comforting voice how it can also cause impotence, suicidal urges, birth defects, infertility, bowel impaction, breast/uterine/ovarian/testicular cancer, loss of memory, and bleeding from all the orifices. At the end of this litany of horrifying side-effects, the announcer always responsibly concluded by encouraging you to ask your doctor about Allurexa™. The last impression you have is that the pretty name may turn you and your whole family into flesh-eating zombies (some anthropopahagy). But hey, that’s a small price to pay for…uh…what is it supposed to do for me again?

Drug companies need a hug.

Now, I recognize that these disclaimers are required by the FDA for drug companies to market their fine products. And that no marketer would, without being forced to do so in such a “nanny state” as the United States (or any other modern democracy), voluntarily include these in their copy. Unless they were stark-raving mad (funny I should mention that; there’s a drug that can help).  So we should have pity on the poor pharmas who are discriminated against in a way that no other responsible company is.

I’m sure the marketing executives of the drug companies feel the inherent injustice of the straight jacket they are forced to wear while they watch how the insidious purveyors of food, cars, airlines, cell phones, toys, and every other product are allowed to advertise without having to mention the lethal dangers associated with their wares. Why aren’t car companies, for instance, required to spend 60 seconds in every commercial telling you that 34,000 Americans die horribly mangled in car crashes every year? Or why isn’t McDonalds required by the FOOD and Drug Administration to inform you that their Chicken McNuggets® (the 20 piece menu item, not the Happy Meal® size portion) may cause congestive heart failure? Or that Papa John’s be required to tell you that their Double Bacon 6 Cheese Pizza™ can cause colon cancer? Hmm? Why not? Double Standard™, that’s why not.

I feel you, drug marketers. It isn’t fair.

The whole issue reminds me of  how overreaching government interference squashed the success of Happy Fun Ball. I really wish that product still existed. It was more fun. Damned FDA. (Or maybe it was the Atomic Energy Commission.)

Not to be a doubter…

I do wonder, though, about some of these drugs. Now bear with me, I don’t want to come across as an anti-capitalist and an enemy of freedom. But if, for instance, the purpose of erectile-dysfunction or testosterone enhancement drugs is to increase the desire to get nearer to your loved ones in that special way (wink-wink-nudge-nudge), why is there a warning not to get near those loved ones if they happen to be female? Or I’m confused about the utility of an anti-depression drug that may increase the risk of suicide. Isn’t suicide one of the symptoms of depression? And if I’m supposed to ask my doctor (since she’s the one who has to prescribe it), shouldn’t I just go to her with my problem and ask about possible solutions instead of suggesting solutions to her? That’s why she spent all those years in medical school, after all.  Of course, I’m living in a dream world.

I know it’s a really cool patent for whatever this molecule is, and the holders of it spent a lot of money on researching, developing, lobbying,  legally protecting, and marketing it. But maybe we should pop an Abilify® (aripiprazole), take a deep breath, and  look one more time at the social wisdom of selling this stuff if it takes twice as much time to read the warnings as the benefits. Either that, or maybe an increase in lobbying investment is warranted…you know, to compete with the lobbyists for McDonald’s and Toyota. Let’s level the playing field, as they say on K-Street.

I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist. So I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I should just stick to marketing.

Never mind. I never brought this up. Ask your doctor about Tabularasa™, “For a clean slate.™”


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