JONATHAN DOWNARD photograph

Advertising Prescriptions? By Jonathan Downard

Paxil, Zoloft, Lipitor, Nasonex, Valtrex, etc... What do these names mean to you?

Chances are fairly good that they mean much more to you than, perhaps, these nonsensical names should mean to anyone who isn't a doctor or already taking these medications. I'm not trying to say that any reasonable person shouldn't do some research on medications that they may have to take for conditions for which a doctor has prescribed. But doesn't all of this advertising seem a bit suspect?

A stand up comedian recently made remarks about these commercials, saying, "Why are they advertising? 'Ask your doctor if Zocor is right for you'-- shouldn't your doctor already know about this stuff? Didn't he go to school for, like, 10 years for this?" Sure, doctors spend a large chunk of their lives on their educations and are supposed to be enlightened health professionals, although not omniscient. I wish I could remember the comedian's name, because I'd love to honor him here for asking such an intelligent question: Shouldn't your doctor already know?

In my view, this sort of advertising has dangerous implications. Firstly, there are enough paranoid people out there that are just dying to find the next drug that's going to fix them. Unfortunately, there are no drugs to truly cure hypochondriacs, because what they really need is a good therapist to help them understand that a body's everyday aches and pains are usually just that... everyday aches and pains. When these people go to the doctor with an idea in their heads of what they may have, they are even more likely to keep getting "second opinions" until they find a doctor complacent or corrupt enough to tell them what they want to hear.

Which leads me to my second point: Corruption is killing us, too. We have seen how the FDA has somehow put the idea of getting cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere out to pasture. We've noticed that, along with the tobacco and petroleum companies, the pharmaceutical companies are some of the biggest spenders among the lobbyists in Washington. We've seen National Forests and Wildlife Refuges recently opened up to mining and drilling in the interest of dollars. Indirectly, that means more petroleum instead of developing cleaner methods, which in turn means more pollution and more cancers. Our President and Congress have sent hordes of the more unfortunate Americans to their deaths or injuries in the Middle-East, with no weapons of mass distruction (or Osama bin Laden) found in Iraq-- our latest parody of the Vietnam War. This also means more medications, both for the soldiers and the folks at home. Large numbers of the poor, less able to afford the expensive protease "cocktail" treatments, are dying from AIDS every year, but Magic Johnson seems to be pretty fit and well. And, recently, the U.S. Capital has even lowered its standards on what actually defines obesity and the extent of the "epidemic." I can say, based on my travels all around this country, I have seen no visible decrease in this mass health problem. There are morbidly obese people all around, continuing to stuff themselves with the least healthy food imaginable, creating even more health problems to treat with surgeries and chemicals. In my mind, this all adds up to more revenue for corporations and wealthy individuals. Socialized health care has been repeatedly refuted here in the U.S, and I am constantly amazed that the bulk of the voting population elects representatives that don't represent the economic needs of their constituents, usually based on religious or conservative ideologies. With all of this corruption and sidetracking running rampant all over our government and medical communities, what would make you think that the A.M.A. and individual doctors are above taking a bit of a kickback for some suggestive prescribing? It may seem a bit ridiculous, but this brings me to my next point.

Thirdly, what can the purpose be of advertising these drugs on such a broad scale? Anyone who watches television has seen the ads for these substances which help to manage herpes, mucus, heart problems, high cholesterol, depression, ADD, ADHD, metabolism of fat, and nearly everything else imaginable. The main thing that makes these commercials "pointless" is the need for a prescription from a doctor. If one can't just go buy these things on his own, why are millions of dollars spent advertising them? What's even more outrageous is the list of drug-related side effects that also comes with the list of symptoms mentioned. All a person needs is such a list of symptoms or side effects that may or may not apply to him; and then, he can go to the doctor and tell him all the problems that he now may think he has and demand that the doctor give him the medicine he saw on TV. Isn't this encouraging self-diagnosis? Doesn't this defeat the purpose of having a doctor as a trained middle man between the consumer and some of these potentially dangerous chemicals? If so, should citizens have the ability to go to the pharmacy and pick out their own medications? When I lived in Southern California, it was very easy for me to cross the border into Mexico, pick up some penicillin, and cure my own ear infection-- and this was only acceptable because I already knew from previous illness that I am not allergic to penicillin. Yes, it's only an antibiotic, but without the benefit of any such knowledge, should people really be able to just pick from a buffet of drugs?

And now, the big one: lifestyle. If you haven't noticed, there is much more emphasis in this country on a quick or easy fix. It's almost as if we're being encouraged to stay unhealthy and dependent on drugs and healthcare. You've seen the commercials for the newer weight-loss pills, which, oddly enough, aren't any different from the commercials for the Fen-Phen and Slimtabs of the past... "All I did was take the pill, and the pounds just melted away!" For some reason this is still acceptable logic for the hopefuls that would like a magic pill to make their problems vanish. Are we Americans learning nothing from the snake oil merchants and laudinum peddlers of the past? Many of the people suffering from hypochondriasis or depression also expect to cure their ills only with chemicals rather than working through them with therapy, psychoanalysis, tenacity, and any necessary medication. The medical profession, the fly-by-night herbalists, and the big pharmaceutical companies have continued to push drugs on us for decades, rather than emphasizing the most important cause/cure for our illnesses-- lifestyle. Aside from being lazy, apathetic, complacent, and dangerously impressionable, most Americans seem to be in denial about what's really making them sick: stress, pollution, gluttony, guilt, and corruption. The sheer size of the McDonald's corporation, in contrast to the findings of the recent documentary film, Supersize Me, ought to be enough to demonstrate my point. In the film, a reasonably fit young man eats nothing but McDonald's food for a whole month. Nearing the end of the month, his team of doctors tell him that his cholesterol and blood pressure had skyrocketed, his gastrointestinal and liver functions were beginning to fail, and his body-fat percentage had increased by a large margin. What's next for our hero? High blood pressure medication! His lesson to us is clear in that we all know it's bad for us, but we keep paying these companies to kill us, and then we pay other big businesses to "cure" us. All along, deep down, we know the problem and the solution are within ourselves.

Obviously, we as Americans are allowing the profiteering of corrupt lobbyists, politicians, and doctors; and still we fail to secure our borders. Obviously, Rush Limbaugh got all those oxycontins from somewhere. I should say I'm not so naive as to expect the federal government to stop bending the truth, corruption to cease, and doctors everywhere to have the good conscience we'd love to count on. But, if tobacco and alcohol companies aren't allowed the full ability to advertise their products and demonstrate their uses, why should the pharmaceutical companies have more freedom to advertise comparably dangerous products, when even a 21-year-old adult still needs a legal prescription to buy them. And cannibus (marijuana), which has been arguably shown to be remarkably more useful and/or less dangerous than all of the above mentioned substances, is still illegal to purchase and use in most states, for medical use or not.

I'm not at all in favor of censorship of any kind-- but I disagree that these advertisements should exist in a society where many of the more anachronistic consider sexually suggestive cheerleading or teaching real-science evolution theories to somehow be pertinent moral issues. I wish to give that nameless comedian an ocean of credit and respect for pointing out an act that is ethically questionable and corrupt, remarkably unfair, and reprehensibly dangerous to unwitting consumers. If I see him again, I'll be joining his fan club and singing his praises.

copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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