By Jason Newell: 

Drugs are drugs, whether they’re classified as legal or not, as the majority of them contain adverse side effects. Most consumers know of the potentiality of experiencing negative reactions when possible symptoms are properly disclosed. But the question to answer is: does Big Pharma have the legal and moral obligation to disclose side effects? American doctors polled believe so. In addition, does Big Pharma need to sell products in an honest manner? The majority of doctors think so, and moreover, they view most pharmaceutical product ads as misleading. Nonetheless, doctors still perceive the ads to be beneficial because it brings those less likely to seek health care into the physician’s office.

In the early 80s, Big Pharma was legally required to display 1) the drug’s side effects, and 2) the drug’s name. The problem with this from a profit motive standpoint was the disclosure of hundreds of side effects – commercials would have to publish a lengthy, and thus, expensive commercial in order to satisfy the guidelines. A few years later, a cunning pharma exec found a loophole around FDA guidelines by including the sentence: “you’re doctor now has treatment which won’t make you drowsy. See your doctor.”


Basically, the FDA overlooked this crafty approach, which allowed the first direct-to consumer pharmaceutical advertising in 1986. One thing to note is that only two nations currently permit direct-to-consumer advertising: the United States and New Zealand. In 1997, restrictions were eased in regards to the disclosure of “all side effects” to “disclosing all major side effects the consumer should know about.” This decision opened up the floodgates of Big Pharma advertising – billions were spent in the newly lucrative legal drug market. But this decision didn’t come without some societal externalities.

After the change in law, problems arose with the claims being disseminated by Big Pharma. For example: Lipitor was marketed as a wonder drug for lowering LDL cholesterol, i.e, bad cholesterol. In a sly fashion, the commercial included the maker of the artificial heart. This supposed health care professional claimed to have taken the drug. Apparently, the drug worked so well that he was able to row a boat. However, “he” was actually a body double rowing the boat, and even worse, the doctor no longer was a doctor as he didn’t have a license to practice medicine.

Lawsuits proliferated as a consequence of the increase in advertising – numerous commercials contained misleading or outright false information. Shady sales tactics include, but aren’t limited to, 1) using actors to portray testimonials, 2) leaving out dangerous side effects, 3) marketing to the incorrect age group, 4) marketing to an untested age group, and 5) using celebrities to artificially prop up the effectiveness of the said drug. Regardless of what side of the issue one is on, these tactics are clearly misleading, and therefore, not an honest sale’s philosophy.

Recent signs of the sheer influence Big Pharma has in Washington D.C. was seen with the no-vote against attempting to control pricing. Some Democrats sided with the pharmaceutical industry as a few of them have received large donations from Big Pharma. The assumption being: money swayed votes in a manner that solidified Big Pharma’s control over both parties, and even progressive Democrats – such as Booker – who are often viewed as “anti-corporate.” Bernie Sanders’ vociferously highlighted the presumed conflict of interest on the Senate floor.

In the end, it’s the job of the American people to dictate the Big Pharma regulatory scheme, but this shouldn’t facilitate a market environment of for-profit drug sales lacking a reasonable moral palette. There’s no doubt that countless drugs assist people with both serious and common health concerns, but we need to ask ourselves: “do I know what I’m consuming?” Without general inquisitiveness, Big Pharma will continue to profit of the naivety of the typical consumer, who often doesn’t have the time or desire to research every potential side effect.


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