Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ask Your Doctor

Does anybody still watch the network news programs? If you do, you might get the impression that the news is making us sick. Of the 30 minutes allotted to the evening newscasts, only about 20 minutes is actually used to tell us what’s going on in the world. The rest is commercials, and almost half of them are for medicines or dietary supplements.

Look at the list of advertisers for this Monday’s CBS Evening News:

Campbells Soup
Alka-Seltzer Plus
Lipitor (prescription cholesterol drug)
Toy Story
Prevacid (prescription acid reducer)
Vesicare (prescription drug for overactive bladder)
Zegerid (prescription heartburn drug)
Discover Credit Card
Boost (nutritional drink)
a negative political ad
Enbrel (prescription drug for rheumatoid arthritis)
GoLean cereal
Geico insurance
Crest toothpaste
Secret deodorant
Phillips colon health
Early Show promo

That’s 18 commercials in a 30 minute broadcast. No wonder you were left with the feeling that you really didn’t get much news. Instead you were invited to try some of Campbell’s ridiculously over-salted soup after which you had a choice of anti-acid treatments. If the negative political ads are giving you a headache, down some Alka-Seltzer. You could rent Toy Story and take some Vesicare to sit through all 90 minutes without wetting your pants. Chug a little Boost to make up for what the soup lacked and follow it up with some Phillips colon health in lieu of vegetables. Don’t forget the Lipitor to wash away the cholesterol. And if sitting around all day watching TV and taking drugs has left your joints stiff, ask your doctor if Enbrel is right for you.

Apparently the folks who watch ABC News are a little healthier. Only one third of their 19 commercials were for medicines or nutritional supplements. On the other hand, the ABC viewers must be plagued by mice. They received not one, but two, ads for Ortho mouse traps. They also had that alleged eye doctor, the one whose glow-in-the-dark contact lens make her look like an alien, pushing prescription eye drops.

Some advertisers take no chances; they flog their pills on all three networks. Prevacid, for example. The prescription medicine ads are strange. While we see active, healthy people enjoying a happy family life, we hear warnings about all the horrendous things that might happen if you take the pills. Stop taking this stuff if you have sudden changes of vision, rapid pulse and sweating, confusion, depression, thoughts of suicide. Don’t drive or operate machinery. Sometimes this medication can result in death. Call your doctor immediately if this happens to you.

The newest drug ads don’t even tell you the name of the product. They just list some symptoms which most people experience from time to time – low energy, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, decreased sexual performance, etc. Then they give you a website to visit. In this case it’s “Is it Low-T” .com. Even the web site is secretive about who is sponsoring the campaign. You have to read the fine print in the privacy statement to discover that it is Slovay Pharmaceuticals, a division of an international chemical group which is now part of Abbott Labs. The product is most likely Androgel, a topical gel used to boost testosterone in men.

Another such ad urged viewers to go to (good luck remembering that one) to learn more about the connection between heart disease and stroke. No product or sponsor is mentioned. At least this website does have the logo of the corporate sponsor, Boehringer-Ingelheim, another multi-national conglomerate which, in addition to vaccines for horses, cattle, and pigs, makes Pradax which is supposed to help prevent strokes, presumably in people.

Most of the pharmaceutical ads end by telling you to ask your doctor if the product is right for you. Some of the web sites are even more helpful – they list discussion points you should use when you talk to your doctor. Imagine if you actually followed this advice. From just one week of watching the nightly news you could be armed with a list of dozens of drugs and the rationale as to why you need each. Any reasonably compliant doctor should give you an entire pad filled with new prescriptions.

But after a week’s worth of watching the news, you still wouldn’t know much about what’s happening in the world.

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