Should Pharmaceutical Companies Advertise To Consumers?

Published February 9th, 2016 by USA Rx
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley
Updated Date: Jun 9th, 2021

Direct-to-consumer (or DTC) prescription medication ads are a lot younger than you might think. They only started appearing in magazines and on TV commercials less than 20 years ago, back in 1997. Before then, pharmaceutical companies spent all their marketing dollars targeting doctors directly, since doctors were effectively the gatekeepers between prescription drugs and the patients who took them.

However, in 1997 a company took a chance with a prescription allergy medication, Claritin, and soon afterwards demand skyrocketed. As it turned out, while doctors may have the final say as to which drugs a patient is prescribed, the patients had a lot more influence than anyone suspected on which drugs the physicians chose. At the same time, though, it probably helped that doctors were receiving the same pressure to prescribe new brand-name drugs from pharmaceutical marketing campaigns that targeted them directly.

Unfortunately, while DTC marketing may help to raise public awareness of new drugs and improve doctor neutrality in a roundabout way (by reducing the marketing funds that target physicians), it may ultimately do more harm than good. While physicians usually keep track of what’s happening in medical journals and can spot when a drug company is trying to pull a fast one by cutting a study short or by overselling a medical effect, the general public doesn’t have that advantage when their only exposure to a drug is its mass-market commercial.

Thus, when a patient demands a drug with a dubious reputation and threatens to hunt around for a physician who will provide it, the doctor doesn’t have much choice but to issue a prescription. DTC marketing is almost entirely responsible for the rise in anti-cholesterol drugs, for instance, despite the fact that cholesterol has only a minor effect on heart health and patients often assume that taking expensive cholesterol pills is an alternative to diet and exercise instead of a supplement.

Another underhanded tactic of DTC ads is to play on the public’s hypochondria. People who are feeling even slightly ill are often worried that what they’re feeling is the first sign of something far worse, and so a DTC ad will list a few relatively common symptoms and say that it may be a serious disease. If the disease is also hard to diagnose, a doctor may wind up overprescribing a medication which can only really help a very small number of people.

Still, prescription drugs are necessary, and they are often very pricy, but that’s where services like the USA Rx pharmacy discount card come in handy. With a USA Rx discount card you can get a deal on virtually every medication in virtually every pharmacy nationwide, and signing up is free: all we need is your name and an email account where we can send you your card number. You can find out more by emailing us at [email protected] or by calling our toll-free number at 888-277-3911.

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