Henry: Don’t let Big Pharma do the research for you

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(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Brendan Henry, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Have you ever been watching traditional television or Hulu and some random drug advertisement using an unrelated, whimsical stock video pops up?

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The advertisement usually informs the viewer of what the drug does and entices the viewer to ask their doctor about it, then, in the end, a sped-up voiceover lists off the long list of side effects. If you’ve ever thought it strange that these pharmaceutical companies are advertising drugs that can only be prescribed by a doctor, you are not alone.

Oddly enough, the United States is one of two countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to run advertisements directed at consumers. One of the main reasons for this oddity in American media is money. America is home to six of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world, and “the worldwide pharmaceutical market was worth nearly $1.3 trillion in 2019,” according to The Pharma Letter’s Cheryl Barton.

So what are these companies doing with that big pile of money lying around? They are advertising big-time in America for sure, and they are additionally spending around $92 million on lobbying for pro-pharma actions in government, which is the most spent by any industry in the country. Why pass laws and regulations that make drugs affordable when your pockets could be lined with pharmaceutical cash?

Doctors also receive compensation for prescribing drugs to patients, incentivizing these ads to be shown to the public. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries reported taking prescription drugs, and “of those taking at least one prescription drug a day, almost half reported taking five or more different drugs a day,” according to B. Joseph Guglielmo, former dean of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy. When elderly Americans are being fed drug ads, and doctors are more than willing to sell them, there lies both health and moral issues.

“With pharmaceutical companies filling Capitol Hill with money bags and doctors taking their cuts, it is important to be aware and make informed decisions regarding medication.”

While pharmaceutical ads are a genuine concern, why would a student at Colorado State University care? After all, we’re not the target audience for these ads.

Many college students have been on their own for only a short amount of time. When a student finds themself in a negative headspace, they may go to a doctor and easily get a prescription for an antidepressant medication instead of consistent therapy or other alternatives. Although therapy is proven to work better for depression in some instances, the student will often not question a medical professional and simply take the medication.

If you have grandparents, they likely still have cable and a computer or smartphone they are not entirely familiar with. While advertisements are not unfamiliar to today’s grandparents, the ways ads are presented are much different and more predatory than they used to be. Ad targeting will churn ads related to past browser searches and can easily instill a brand into the mind.

Going to the doctor with a brand in mind will only help the doctor make a decision. When doctors are receiving kickbacks for selling medications, they will not hesitate to prescribe them to you or your loved ones, even if there are non-medication alternatives for treatment. This can lead to drug dependence and unwanted side effects.

Of course, not every prescription is given by doctors out of greed or malice, but it is important to be aware of the power that pharmaceutical companies hold in America. When an industry can toss around nearly $3 billion for advertising, they can certainly give doctors incentives to prescribe anyone a medication whether needed or not.

With pharmaceutical companies filling Capitol Hill with money bags and doctors taking their cuts, it is important to be aware and make informed decisions regarding medication. Big Pharma will gladly take all the money they can from anyone they can prey upon. Pharma advertisements are not only strange but harmful to those looking for medical solutions.

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As college students, we need to remember to do our own research and encourage our loved ones to do the same. Just because you see an ad for an arthritis medication featuring a middle-aged mom dancing in a field of flowers doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect fit. Question what you’re shown, do your research and push back against Big Pharma.

Reach Brendan Henry at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @BrendanHenryRMC.