“Advertise the disease, if you’re feeling this way, you're sick and should see your doctor” - Gary Greenberg



How do pharmaceutical companies manage to sell potentially dangerous drugs to millions of people? In 1997 the FDA released a guidance document on Direct to Consumer advertising, allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products directly to patients using the same emotional based advertising tactics as Coke, McDonalds or Macy’s. While drug companies are supposed to balance benefits with information about adverse effects, most commercials for pharmaceuticals show emotionally appealing scenes while talking about the negative aspects of their product. The end result leaves people confused about how the drug works and how effective it actually is. Although direct to consumer advertising opens up doors for pharmaceutical company manipulation it also gives people access to once difficult to obtain information about prescription drugs.

Besides just having confusing commercials, pharmaceutical research is often conducted in a way that is biased towards whatever drug is being tested. It is not required for a company to publish any results of their testing, so negative results often go unpublished while positive results may be published multiple times. New drugs are sold as being better than their older counter parts, however, these results are usually skewed due to the drugs being tested against placebos and never actually each other.

Due to the way research is conducted, many pharmaceuticals appear to be more effective than they actually are. In 2003, four researchers used the Freedom of Information Act, to obtain FDA reviews of every placebo-controlled clinical trial for the six most widely used antidepressant drugs approved between 1987 and 1999; Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone, and Effexor. They found that on average, placebos were 80% as effective as the drugs. Instead of researching new affordable cures for third world diseases, pharmaceutical research often focuses on the production of “Lifestyle Drugs” that are meant to treat non-threatening conditions like acne, baldness and wrinkles. There is more money to be made selling "lifestyle drugs" to first world countries than cures for diseases to poor people in the third world.

Pharmaceutical companies and doctors are also intertwined and doctors will often profit from prescribing a certain drug. In 2004, it was discovered that 8 of the 9 doctors who formed a committee in 2001 to advise the government on cholesterol guidelines for the public were making money from the same companies that made the cholesterol lowering drugs that they were urging Americans to take. Scary to think that your doctor may be prescribing you medicine based on what they will gain instead of your health, if in doubt, always seek a second opinion.