The funny side of pharmaceuticals, you may ask? Is there such a thing?
Well, this is the last article for this series on drugs, and I thought, since it’s been a pretty serious series – drug use and the marketing of them is a very serious subject, with much to be concerned about – I thought why not end it with a little light-hearted fare, a little yin to balance out all the yang of this series.
Plus, with tomorrow being April Fool’s Day, why not start the humor early?
So what you’ll see on this page is a bunch of spoof drug ads, and most of the ads are really funny and very tongue in cheek. There’s a lot of satire and biting humor with these ads, as they point out the craziness of our being a drugged-out nation, but it’s done in a way that will make you smile and laugh.
As I wind down this series on drugs – tomorrow is the last article in the series – I give you a music video I have put together.
This entire series has been about how we live in a Drugged-Out Nation.
But now I give you something to sing and dance to, while you can also ponder the message.
A little entertainment, and a little food for thought – not a bad combination.
So enjoy, and I’ll see you tomorrow with the concluding article in this series on drugs.
In the last article I talked about the dangers of statins. Today I’ll discuss the dangers of antibiotic overuse, which is a major problem.
Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. Their widespread availability beginning in the 1940s revolutionized medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. Today, however, many bacterial infections in the United States and throughout the world are developing resistance to the most commonly prescribed antibiotic treatments.
The issue is that antibiotics are used far too often, often for conditions that don’t warrant them. For instance, 70% -80% of all visits to a doctor for a sinus infection, cold, bronchitis or flu result in a prescription for an antibiotic being written. Yet, the overwhelming majority of these upper respiratory infections are viral in nature, for which antibiotics are useless.
Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, not viral infections, so antibiotics are being used when they shouldn’t. The problem with this is that they cause the body to develop a bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Resistance occurs because there are millions of healthy bacteria which live symbiotically within us. These bacteria help us to live normally, and we allow them the same in return.
But if we take antibiotics when bacteria are not the cause of the trouble, we hurt the balance of healthy bacteria in our body and start to knock them out of the body.
The body then finds a way to fight back, as the healthy bacteria find ways to avoid succumbing to antibiotics. It is only a matter of time before these antibiotic resistant, healthy bacteria become antibiotic resistant unhealthy bacteria. The result is a disease-causing bug that can be treated with few or no available medications. Such drug-resistant strains represent a potent danger, both to self and to others: and especially to those whose immune systems are most vulnerable.
As overuse of antibiotics continues, more and more resistant microbes will spread, and antibiotics will consequently become less effective. Drug-resistant bacteria emerge from mutations – microbes are constantly mutating, and these mutations eventually cause resistance to antibiotics.
Drug-resistant bacteria are a growing problem in hospitals worldwide, marked by the rise of superbugs such as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA).
MRSA has been concretely linked to the indiscriminate and improper use of antibiotics.
Such infections kill about 25,000 people a year in Europe and around 48,000 in the United States. In the U.S. superbugs add $8 billion to health care costs.
Superbugs are infections that can’t be successfully treated with commonly prescribed antibiotics and usually involve longer illnesses, extended hospital stays or severe side effects from last resort drugs. They often lead to higher treatment costs. And for young children, the elderly and the immuno-compromised, a progressive antibiotic-resistant infection can be fatal.
Besides the indiscriminate prescribing of antibiotics by doctors, another cause of antibiotic overuse leading to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria is the widespread practice of giving antibiotics to cows, chickens and pigs.
70% of antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to animals – a total of 25 million pounds, which is eight times the amount given to humans. These animals, once slaughtered and consumed by humans, lead to major problems with antibiotic resistance.
You can read more about antibiotics and livestock in the article I wrote on the Low Density Lifestyle website last fall, The Drugging of Livestock.
Currently, 60 million Americans take these drugs, and another 36 million should be taking them, according to experts. The 36 million who should be taking them are people whose total cholesterol levels are not high at all.
But if more people take them, the drug companies stand to profit even more than they already do.
Thirty years ago, the medical literature said that candidates for cholesterol medication were any middle-aged man whose cholesterol was over 240 with other risk factors, such as smoking or overweight.
After the Cholesterol Consensus Conference in 1984, the parameters changed: anyone (male or female) with cholesterol over 200 could receive the dreaded diagnosis and a prescription for pills. And recently that number has been moved down to 180.
The problem with statins is that cholesterol is an important component in the body for maintaining cellular health, and if inhibited by medications, can cause the body to develop blood sugar problems, edema, mineral deficiencies, chronic inflammation, difficulty in healing, allergies, asthma, reduced libido, infertility and various reproductive problems.
And that’s just the problems caused by inhibited cholesterol production in the body. That doesn’t even take into account the dangers of the statin drugs themselves.
The most common side effect of the drug is muscle pain and weakness. One study found that 98% of people on Lipitor developed muscle pain and weakness.
Other side effects of the various statins include peripheral neuropathy – tingling, numbness, weakness and pain in the hands and feet; nerve damage; liver damage; heart failure; dizziness; memory problems; lower intelligence; cancer; pancreatitis; depression; and suicide.
Lipitor doesn’t even stop heart disease or heart attacks, as the package insert for the drug says.
But it can cause serious problems. And one of the chief problems of the statins is that by inhibiting cholesterol production in the liver, they’re also inhibiting cholesterol production in the brain, and without cholesterol being produced by the brain, the brain’s function decreases. Hence the nerve problems, along with the mental/cognitive problems that are side effects of the drug.
Many studies have shown no benefit, and much potential harm, from taking statins. In one of the largest studies of the drug, the five-year death rate for treated subjects was reduced by a mere 0.6 percent. To achieve that slight reduction, about 165 healthy people had to be treated for five years to extend one life by five years. The cost for that one life comes to 1.2 million dollars.
The reason for the high cost to save one life is that statins are very expensive–a course of statins for a year costs between $900 and $1400. If you have insurance, your insurance company may pay most of that cost, but costs are always passed to consumers, through higher insurance premiums.
But of course, like all other drugs, statins are well-marketed and well-promoted, which convinces consumers that they are necessary.
I’ve pointed out during this series on drugs that the U.S. is a Drugged-Out Nation, a nation where on average, every man, woman and child takes 12 pharmaceutical drugs.
As I’ve pointed out, we can thank the intense marketing and promotion of drugs for the insane amounts of drugs consumed in the U.S. And as I’ve also pointed out, 40% of all drugs produced in the world are consumed in the U.S.
One downside, among many, of taking so many medications is something called Acute Pharmaceutical Toxicity, or APT.
APT is what killed the actor Heath Ledger, who died at the age of 28 on Jan. 22, 2008; and the actress Brittany Murphy, who died at the age of 32 on Dec. 20, 2009.
APT is what can potentially happen to anyone who takes a number of medications. Heath Ledger was taking six drugs, while Brittany Murphy was taking 10.
Here’s the problem: no one knows what happens when you take a number of drugs together, because pharmaceuticals have never been tested in combination with other drugs. In other words, when you are combining a number of medications, it is hard to predict what might happen.
Despite the fact that no combination testing has ever been done on pharmaceuticals, they are regularly prescribed in combination. Obviously, this creates a whole new realm of unknown risk based on the way multiple drugs might chemically interact in the human body.
The more pharmaceuticals you take, the more dangerous they become. While one pharmaceutical chemical may at first seem harmless (even though just one drug can actually kill you), when you start adding a second, third, fourth and fifth prescription on top of that, you’re dealing with Acute Pharmaceutical Toxicity.
Pharmacists are trained to help people avoid the most toxic two-drug combinations, but they rarely have any real knowledge about what happens when you combine three, four, five or more drugs. No one does. The science has simply never been done on that question. It’s no wonder: With all the possible combinations and permutations of pharmaceutical toxicity, it would take literally trillions of clinical trials to test them all.
So this whole idea that you can take a drug to treat one problem, then take a second drug to treat a second problem, and a third to treat a third problem… this entire approach to health care, upon which modern medicine is largely based, is flawed from the start. In clinical trials, patients are tested for one drug at a time. Never five or six (or ten).
Ask any senior citizen which prescription drugs they take, and most of them (the ones who can still remember, anyway) will rattle off a shockingly long list of toxic chemicals that have never been tested in combination. Just because one drug in isolation seems “safe” in one trial in no way means it’s going to be safe when combined with half a dozen other toxic chemicals taken by the patient at the same time.
But the problem is this: if you have a number of health issues, you will end up seeing different specialists, who each will most probably prescribe medications. So then you’re on a number of drugs, and you have no one keeping track of all the drugs you’re taking.
And of course, there’s also no one who knows exactly how these drugs will interact with one another.
So don’t become a victim of APT – Acute Pharmaceutical Toxicity. If you take multiple medications, start formulating a game plan for how you can reduce or eliminate the drugs you take.
Or else, you may wind up like Heath Ledger or Brittany Murphy.
In the previous article, Ask Your Doctor: The Marketing of Drugs, I showed a video of former drug rep and now filmmaker Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau speaking from her insider knowledge of how the drug companies market their wares.
Marketing drugs is the major part of a drug company’s expenses, far ahead of research and development of new product. And on the frontline of the marketing is the drug rep.
There are about 700,000 practicing physicians in the U.S., and drug companies spend about $60,000 per doctor, for a total of $57 billion, promoting their drugs. The majority of that expense is for the drug reps.
The reps are doing a good job, in that 40% of all drugs produced in the world are being consumed in the U.S. – that’s why I said in a previous article that the U.S. is a Drugged Out Nation.
Sadly, there’s a down side to all that drug use – adverse drug reactions are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
And, because of all that pill popping, the U.S. ranks 24th in the world for life expectancy.
I thought today it would be best to hear from the drug reps themselves, or to learn more about how they work.
At the top of the page is a trailer from a film called Side Effects, which was directed by the above mentioned Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, the former drug rep turned filmmaker.
And below are a few videos:
1) A report on CNBC about how drug reps work.
2) A spoof of drug reps, from the TV show Scrubs.
3) A former drug rep who peddled the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa, talking about how they manipulated and hid information about the drug.
4) Gwen Olson, a former drug rep who wrote an expose about the drug industry, on how drug reps manipulate doctors.
In yesterday’s article, Drug Ads on TV – A Brief History, I laid the blame for the epidemic of exponential growth in pharmaceutical consumption in the U.S. to August 1997, when the FDA allowed drug companies to begin advertising on TV.
The ubiquitous line you always hear in the ads, “Ask your doctor,” is the catchphrase to get you to mention that specific drug to your doctor, so that your doctor may prescribe that specific one, as opposed to a generic variation.
In the above video, Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, a former pharmaceutical sales rep gives the inside dirt. Slattery-Moschkau, who since leaving the field has gone on to become a filmmaker, making the feature film Side Effects, starring Katherine Heigl as a pharmaceutical sales rep, discusses the billion dollar psycho/pharmaceutical marketing campaign designed to get millions of people on psychotropic drugs through slick drug ads and marketing campaigns that include ghost writing pro-drug articles for medical journals.
Meanwhile, you think advertising on TV is the final resting stop for the drug companies? Think again.
The newest fertile ground is the online marketing of drugs.
There’s been an explosive growth in online advertising: the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $1 billion on Internet ads last year and is projected to spend $1.7 billion on such marketing efforts in 2012.
And with that growth comes the potential for more unscrupulous advertising, because it’s much harder for the FDA to monitor all the websites that drug companies advertise on. Both Eli Lilly and Merck have received warning letters this year from the FDA accusing them of misleading online advertisements, but many more online ads escape the eyes of the FDA.
An increasing number of pharmaceutical firms are now using social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and MySpace, to market their products.
The drug company McNeil developed their own social media site called “ADHD Allies”—aimed at adults with ADHD—and on the site offer an online podcast on financial advice and an ADHD self-assessment tool.
What McNeil and many other drug companies are doing with their online advertising is slick and unscrupulous. The websites don’t mention the company’s product but rather market the disease, under the guise of attempting to share information and educate the public, especially those with the disease.
On these websites, the tone is educational, with the specific disease discussed, but the only options given are pharmaceutical ones. It’s not so easy to tell that a specific drug company is behind the website.
By doing things this way, drug companies can overcome fears of running afoul of FDA regulations that govern drug advertising and at the same time help brand and position their companies in a positive light with both the general public and doctors.
The top 10 drug companies using social media are: Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Novartis, Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca US, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Roche, and Merck.
So next time you hear the slogan “Ask Your Doctor,” remember that the slogan is not being used with your best interests in mind.
I started this series on drugs last week, stating that we are a drugged-out nation, and that when you take medications, it lessens your ability to achieve true health.
I’m not saying to quit taking your medications right now, as that may not be a wise thing to do. What I am saying is that you have to consider what your health goals are, and if it’s becoming healthy, then you have to start becoming proactive in getting off or at least cutting down on your medications.
Pharmaceutical drugs are not the answer to health, but it seems to be that people are being programmed to think they are.
A patient of mine recently told me she was on high blood pressure medication. Her blood pressure was 118/80 before she went on medication, and I told her that she does not have high blood pressure and shouldn’t be on a drug for it.
She went to see her doctor, who said that new regulations are stating that her blood pressure puts her in the pre-high blood pressure category, and that it’s now recommended that when people are in that category they should go on blood pressure medication.
I couldn’t believe when she told me this, and I told her that drug companies must have written that regulation, as the only one that serves is them.
She was wise enough to stop the medication, and she’s doing fine.
But how did we get to this point that drugs use is at such an epidemic level?
Prior to 1997, the FDA rules said, “Advertisements promoting the medical use of prescription drugs must contain a ‘brief summary’ of all important information about the advertised drug, including its side effects, contraindications and effectiveness. In addition, advertisements broadcast over radio, TV or through telephone communications systems must include a ‘major statement’ prominently disclosing all of the major risks associated with the drug.”
Prior to August of 1997, print advertisements for prescription drugs were able to meet the “brief summary” requirement by including the risk-related sections of drug labeling together with the advertising copy. As the drug companies looked wistfully at the enormous marketing potential of television, they saw that there was no way to provide the required information about the drug in 30 second or one minute television ads.
Did Congress act? No, the FDA made the August 1997 rule change quietly and without consulting Congress or really anyone else. Their change allowed the drug companies to “…include information about any major risks, as well as instructions for how consumers can easily obtain more detailed information about the drug’s approved uses and risks.”
FDA Lead Deputy Commissioner Michael J. Friedman, M.D was one of the driving forces behind this change long sought by the drug companies. Dr. Friedman said in 1997, “Today’s action can help promote greater consumer awareness about prescription drugs. By describing realistic standards for television advertising of prescription drugs, we hope to end the uncertainty which has plagued both consumers and industry about the use of this medium. The FDA is committed to making sure that accurate and complete information is available to consumers.”
In the 1997 rule revision, the FDA “…presumes that the broadcast ad is truthful, not misleading, and contains information about the major health risks associated with the drug.
In lieu of providing a “brief summary,” the advertiser would have to provide a mechanism to ensure that consumers can easily obtain full product labeling.” In other words it is enough to quickly list some of the side effects along with a toll-free phone number or web address or advise the listener to speak with a physician.
Shortly after the FDA gave their blessing to the drug companies to advertise on TV, thanks to Dr. Michael Friedman, the good doctor left the agency. In 1998, President Clinton nominated Dr. Jane Henney to be the next commissioner of the FDA, and Dr. Friedman resigned to become a senior vice president at Searle, a subsidiary of Monsanto.
Which begs the question: In whose interests was Dr. Friedman looking after?
The United States and New Zealand are the only two industrial nations that allow the drug companies to advertise on television in this fashion.
As a result of being given the green light to advertise on TV, drug companies have quadrupled expenditures on ads aimed at consumers. Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 296.4% from 1997 to 2005, from $1 billion to $4 billion.
And the five single drugs with the highest expenditures for direct-to-consumer advertising were Nexium, Lunesta, Vytorin, Crestor, and Advair.
So next time you see an ad on TV, and you hear the famous tagline at the end to “ask your doctor,” remember that drug use in the U.S. has increased exponentially over the last 10 years, thanks in no small part to all that advertising on TV.
Bill Maher has a sharp wit, a sharp tongue and a sharp sense of what’s right.
And on the issue of pharmaceuticals and the drug companies, Bill Maher is one of the harshest critics around.
He doesn’t pull punches, and he speaks his mind. He’s funny, sarcastic, ironic, and knowledgeable.
Maher is a big advocate of healthy living, and feels the only way to truly reform the health care system is for people to learn how to be healthy.
Along with that, people need to learn how to resist the distorted message of the drug companies, in order that we can stop being a drugged-out nation.
So I invite you to watch the above video, and the videos below, to hear Bill Maher speak forcefully and forthrightly. You’ll find yourself laughing, while at the same time shaking your head in agreement, knowing that what he speaks is the truth.
And it might just make you angry at the drug companies and the way health care is practiced in the U.S.
The key is, if you do get angry, to do something about it. Like, just saying no – to taking pharmaceuticals.
In yesterday’s article entitled Drugged-Out Nation, I mentioned how antidepressants were the third most popular class of drugs dispensed in 2008, with over $9.5 billion in sales.
And over the last ten years, their use has nearly doubled in the U.S., while the use of psychotherapy by those prescribed antidepressants has declined.
Ten percent of the U.S. population is now being treated with an antidepressant during the course of a year, whereas ten years ago, five percent of the population was being treated with antidepressants.
One exception to the trend involved African-Americans. Ten years ago, 3.6% of African-Americans were on antidepressants and currently that number stands at 4.5%. The reason for this, according to some studies, is that African-Americans have lower rates of depression than whites.
In regards to psychotherapy, ten years ago 31% of people on antidepressants also took part in psychotherapy. Now the number of people both taking antidepressants and participating in psychotherapy is 20%.
There are a number of factors that explain the increasing use of antidepressants. One is that there has been broad and growing acceptance of antidepressant medicine in the U.S..
The other is that over the last ten years, several new antidepressants have come on the market, and they’re big money makers.
Unfortunately, it’s well-known that in mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy is as good as or better than medications. And in the population as a whole, most depression is mild or moderate.
Yet, antidepressant use has skyrocketed while psychotherapy use has declined.
And now new research has shown that half the people who take antidepressants for depression never get relief.
Why? Because the cause of depression has been oversimplified and drugs designed to treat it aim at the wrong target, according to new research from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
A study from the laboratory of long-time depression researcher Eva Redei has toppled two strongly held beliefs about depression. One is that stressful life events are a major cause of depression. The other is that an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain triggers depressive symptoms.
Both findings are significant because these beliefs were the basis for developing drugs currently used to treat depression.
Redei, the David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School, found powerful molecular evidence that quashes the long-held dogma that stress is generally a major cause of depression. Her new research reveals that there is almost no overlap between stress-related genes and depression-related gene.
And antidepressants treat stress, not depression. “That is one key reason why current antidepressants aren’t doing a great job,” Redei noted.
She said another reason current antidepressants are often ineffective is that they aim to boost neurotransmitters based on the popular molecular explanation of depression, which is that it’s the result of decreased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. But that’s wrong, Redei said.
“The medications have been focusing on the effect, not the cause,” she said. “That’s why it takes so long for them to work and why they aren’t effective for so many people.”
And so, in our drugged-out nation, we have so many people taking antidepressants, and yet the great percentage of people taking them should not be.
But why should the drug companies care? They’re making healthy profits off of depression.