Drug Marketing Campaigns Obscure Side Effects

Although drug makers must indicate a drug’s adverse effects on its labeling, drug marketing campaigns obscure drug side effects.

OpEdNews notes that 100,000 Americans die every year over complications from prescribed drugs; another 1.5 million people become ill or seriously injured over medication mistakes. These figures are worrisome when considering that, according to a 2010 study, 65% of all Americans takes a prescription medication, according to OpEdNews.

Although federal law mandates that drug makers must advise consumers about their medications’ harmful or deadly side effects, marketing strategies tend to minimize these harmful effects while playing up a drug’s benefits. One way in which this accomplished, notes OpEdNews, is by the use of celebrity spokespeople recruited for television, radio, and newspaper advertising. For instance, Pfizer Inc.’s Enbrel uses pro-golfer Phil Mickelson in one of its ads for the psoriatic arthritis medication and cleverly voices over a long list of serious adverse reactions.

Other marketing simply glazes over side effects such as pain reliever Celebrex, also manufactured by Pfizer, which heavily touts its pain relieving qualities while minimizing increased risks for deadly heart attack and stroke, said OpEdNews. And, there are other issues, such as banned medications making their way into consumers medicine chests. Genentech Inc.’s Raptiva, a psoriasis medication that was pulled from the market in 2009 over serious, sometimes deadly reactions, is still available online, including from a California online pharmacy.

Another way side effects are minimized is by enlisting physician endorsements. Consider this—drug makers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to have doctors tout drugs in exchange for consulting fees, sitting on corporate advisory boards, and lecturing physicians at conferences and other events. As a matter-of-fact, notes OpEdNews, industry covers about 80 percent of the costs for continuing medical education, which is needed by physicians in order to retain their licenses.

We’ve long written that the relationships and finances exchanged between industry and researchers points to a bias in which patients are often not the prime concern. Most recently we wrote that drug companies are bracing for forced disclosure of doctor payments, part of a standard being implemented by the Obama administration in an effort to minimize medical conflicts of interest and increase drug information transparency. When industry pays physicians, treatment options are potentially influenced and doctors often opt for more expensive drugs and devices, which in turn, tends to drive costs. Some in Congress and consumer advocates feel the new standards will likely benefit patients.

A prior New York Times review revealed that about 25 percent of all physicians accept cash from drug and device makers and about 2/3rds accept meals in exchange for advice and speaking engagements. The Times also revealed that physicians receiving money from drug makers tend to practice medicine in different ways than physicians who do not accept industry gifts, and that doctors working with industry also tend to prescribe medications in riskier and unapproved ways.

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