If you watch TV at all, you have most likely seen and heard why you should take any number of prescription drugs. The commercials show pictures of people in pain or talking about their painful condition and then, with big smiles, the actors tell you about the relief they have now because they took XYZ drug. The pharmaceutical companies have even hired celebrities like Cindi Lauper and Phil Mickelson to help entice you to try their drug. So is television your new physician?
The pitch implies “You MUST have this drug.” And in the fast talk, they give you the message that it might make you sicker or even result in death. These disclaimers are required by law or you would never hear them.
As a healthcare professional, I have questioned the value of these ads since they first appeared some years ago. Why does the general public need to know about prescription drugs? This is the job of your physician and your pharmacist. They have years of study and have access to information you do not have about drugs, their actions, and possible reactions.
As you continue reading, consider the question: Is television your new physician?
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are another story. You can decide which vitamins, cough drops, or antacids you prefer or what you want to take for mild pain. That’s not a problem. Read your labels carefully and don’t exceed the stated dose.
But most of the drugs advertised on TV have serious side effects and, yes the ad covers them, but sometimes the fine print in the literature raises some big red flags. I started paying close attention not long ago. Sometimes in one evening of TV viewing, I view 8 to 10 ads by pharmaceutical companies. Here are descriptions of some that I’ve seen lately. I have not named the drug, but pay attention to the side effects.
One of the most frequently viewed commercials is for a medication used to treat pain caused by nerve damage due to diabetes, shingles infection, spinal cord injury or fibromyalgia. The side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty concentrating, swollen arms/legs, and weight gain. The commanding voice instructs you to “Tell your doctor right away if you have any unlikely but serious side effects, including blurred vision, unusual bleeding/bruising, unsteadiness, confusion, muscle pain, tenderness or weakness, swelling of hands/legs/feet, signs of kidney problems (such as change in the amount of urine).” If you read the literature, you will learn that it may lead to addiction or to suicidal tendencies.
Another drug that is advertised on TV states this in the fine print of their literature:
Tell your healthcare provider if you get a lump or swelling in your neck, have hoarseness, trouble swallowing, or shortness of breath while taking it. These may be symptoms of thyroid cancer. In studies with rats or mice, this drug and medicines that work like it caused thyroid tumors, including thyroid cancer. It is not known if it will cause thyroid tumors or a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) in people. Do not take it if you or any of your family members have ever had MTC or if you have Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2).
And yet another drug advertised on TV states in the physician’s information, “Patients treated with this drug are at increased risk for developing serious infections that may lead to hospitalization or death. Most patients who developed these infections were taking concomitant immunosuppressants, such as methotrexate or corticosteroids.”
So, what’s my point?
Actually, I want to make several points.
- YOU are responsible for you and it’s critically important that you make informed decisions about what you put in your body.
- Pharmaceutical companies want to make money. They are a very big business and may or may not have your best interests at heart. Their net profits for 2017 range from 1 Billion to 13.3 Billion dollars. They earn this by selling their product to as many as they can. To see the report for yourself, click here.
- Some doctors get “kick-backs” from pharmaceutical companies. A number of reports say that this is so. One report says that 7 drug companies made payments to over 17,000 physicians between 2009 and 2010 and that 380 doctors received over $100,000 each for prescribing their drugs. If you want to know if your doctor accepts kickbacks, check it out here. I did. My primary care physician has garnered over $5,000 from pharmaceutical companies. On my next visit, I will discuss this with him. If a physician can make $100,000 for prescribing a drug, won’t he or she be tempted to sell as much of that drug as possible? A friend of mine told me that his 95-year-old mother, now in a nursing home, takes over 70 different medications. Yes, seventy! I question how many of those she really needs and how many of them are causing her harm. I have to wonder what the cost is to her and to her insurance company.
- When your doctor prescribes any new drug, ask him some questions. Some of the most basic questions are:
- How will this medication help me? If the medication is for a new diagnosis, make sure you understand what the condition is, and how it affects you. Asking how a medicine works can help you understand what’s going on in your body, and have a clear vision of how the medicine will help.
- How is the medication taken? It’s more than the choice of pill, patch or injection. Some medications may make you sleepy and are best taken at night. Others disagree with an empty stomach, so they should be taken with a meal to avoid side effects.
- How should the medication be stored? Proper storage ensures that a medication stays as effective as possible. For example, some probiotics need to be refrigerated, to protect the helpful bacteria they contain.
- Why this medication versus a similar drug? There are a few reasons why your doctor may choose a particular drug. A new medicine may have fewer side effects than an older solution; conversely, an older drug may have more credibility and trials to show its effectiveness is better than a brand new option. Different drugs that treat the same condition might have different drug interactions or different types of risks so your other medications and personal health history can affect the choice as well.
- What should I expect? How will you know if the medication is working properly? What do you look for? Are there side effects you need to be aware of?
I don’t know about you, but I intend to add the question, “Do you get money from the drug company when you prescribe this for me?” If it’s a new and expensive drug, that is an appropriate question.
This is serious. It is estimated that over 100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs. Is this because big pharma and an abundance of physicians were more interested in their profit than your health?
There are many extremely honest, capable, dedicated doctors in our healthcare system. But there are those who will take advantage of kickbacks and push pills that should not be pushed.
You are responsible for you.
It is your right to ask questions to ensure that you are safe in your pursuit of health and wellness.
You have the obligation to be an informed patient.
So, is television your new physician?
I hope your answer is no.
About the Author
Irene Conlan is the “owner-operator” of The Self Improvement Blog. She has a Master’s degree in Nursing and a Ph.D. in Metaphysics.