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Side effects of prescription drugs advertised on television

POSTED: February 23, 2014 1:30 a.m.

The pharmaceutical companies spend a fortune on what is called DTC or direct-to-consumer advertising.

When the Food and Drug Administration agreed to let them advertise on TV, they required the ads disclose all of the major side effects.

I had the occasion to watch a little more TV recently and a lot of prescription drugs are being advertised these days. They are particularly prominent during the evening network news. I gather there must be a lot of sick folks watching the news.

The drugmakers have adopted a common format for the commercials. The first part is somebody’s personal story of how this wonder drug changed his or her life. They couldn’t breathe, or bend over, or they were depressed or they smoked like a chimney.

Now, let me say right here people who have serious illnesses need help. I just don’t think you’re going to find your answer during a long, drawn-out commercial on TV.

The second part of the commercial is a rundown on all the side effects. They use some very creative words to describe events that are not pretty. Some of them talk about “fatal events.” That is so much nicer than “this can kill you.”

Now, comes word the FDA is trying to figure out if we are paying attention to all those side effects.

It may limit the side effects to the ones they consider “serious and actionable.”

The advertisements are made to encourage patients to go to their doctors and specifically request the drug by name. I don’t guess people go to their doctor and ask for the medicine that can cause nausea, heart attack, stroke or, my old favorite, fatal events.

“Yeah, Doc, you know that one that can give you blurry vision, hallucinations or cause suicidal thoughts,” just doesn’t seem like a patient-doctor conversation.

Things are a bit different from the days when young George Bailey kept the drunken pharmacist, Mr. Gower, from dispensing something poisonous to a customer. I’m not suggesting anything marketed by pharmaceutical companies is poison, but it is potent stuff and you better read the directions and make sure your doctor knows what else you might be taking.

When I was a kid, things like bug spray, rat poison and drain cleaner had a skull and crossbones on the container. If you couldn’t read, you could figure out this wasn’t something you wanted to take a swig of.

I guess it wouldn’t sell much medicine to have a skull and crossbones on the side of the box.

I take more medicine now than I would like to. I realize if I shed some excess ballast, I probably wouldn’t have to take anything. I used to look for an excuse to take one of those orange-flavored baby aspirin. They don’t even make those anymore. I looked for it on the Internet and they had a “vintage” bottle at a site where they sell old stuff.

I also could develop a cough to purchase a pack of those really sweet-tasting cough drops. They still make those.

I like my pharmacist and the local drugstore where I do business. But there are not enough TV ads anywhere to make me want to take anything else.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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