Selling Health: Advertising Drugs as the Solution

Within the last ten to twelve years, I’ve noticed an influx of commercials advertising different drugs, everything from erectile dysfunction to depression. Recently, I discovered that this practice is illegal in Canada, and yet we’re able to see such commercials because we have many American channels on satellite or digital cable. At first I found these commercials to be humorous but also pointless as the laundry list of side effects would be enough to convince me not to take the drug. However, recently I’ve also come to understand how marketing comes into play with such medication, because the underlying perception in our society is still that prescription drugs are somehow are effective than those we can simply purchase on our own in the drugstore.

With that being said, there are also other techniques used by such companies that convince people to talk to their doctors about medication such as Celebrex or Viagra. They use images of healthy, happy people who have become that way because the drugs have cured their depression or their allergies. Every day conditions such as allergies and the common cold have been re-branded into being sold as diseases and as such the underlying message is that medication must be purchased in order to heal people from such afflictions.

Moreover, I personally admit that companies such as Pfizer have ingenious marketing departments. Pfizer’s recent campaign featuring the ‘What Can We Do’ and “Graffiti’ commercials focuses on the human element to better health, becoming more brave, loving your families and enjoying the little things in life. Pfizer is bold enough to proclaim that sometimes ‘it takes more than medication’ in an attempt to market themselves as believing in alternative ways to better health, in spite being one of the two largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Keep in mind, however, alternative in this sense does not mean alternative medicine. Although society is increasingly accepting of methods such as herbal medicine, acupuncture and naturopathy, these methods are in direct competition with pharmaceutical companies and in traditional mediums, such as television; pharmaceutical companies rule. Western medicine is still trying to convince its audience that the answers to their problems are found at the bottom of a pill bottle.

As I mentioned previously, the companies often do not create new medication for new diseases, rather they re-brand old diseases with new names and everyday conditions into diseases that previously thought of as being normal, such as acid reflux, which is now called gastro-esophageal reflux disease, which sounds much more serious and in much more need of medication to deal with it. I’ve recently learned that this is called the commodification of health and the medicalization of the human experience.

With this so called new influx of drugs and diseases, so brings in more fear in society about our health. The relationship with our doctors simply becomes a delivery system for these drugs, which doctors are pressured into pushing because of free incentives they receive from pharmaceutical companies. It is a world where increasingly, we cannot trust the information internet websites on the most effective medication, nor what we hear on the news.

In essence, all we are able to do as patients and consumers is tread carefully into the world of medication and learn as much as we can from patient advocacy groups and literature written by proven medical scientists and professionals. Without this knowledge, we are doing nothing but walking into a field of land mines.