Su Lum: Slumming |

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Forget the vampire and ghost shows – the scariest things on national TV are the prescription medicine advertisements. As soon as I hear, “Ask your doctor,” I grab for the remote control to mute the message.

If we wonder how in the world the negative political ads can possibly be effective, we need look no further than the advertisement for medication to cure gout, which promises relief from this nasty condition but adds, “may cause gout.” Clearly we are a nation of people who can be sold anything if the message is carefully crafted.

Cheerful actors sing the praises of Cymbalta, prescribed for depression, and apparently the marketers have figured out that listeners will hear “Imagine less pain,” but will blank out “may cause suicide … may be fatal.”

The meds that promise to bring your life back also might take it away. “Ask your doctor” is another way of saying, “Tell your doctor you want this pill.”

Pradaxa, a blood thinner to reduce strokes, carries the disclaimer that it might cause fatal bleeding. In another commercial, listeners are advised to call 1-800-BAD-DRUG if they’ve suffered ill effects from Pradaxa.

Nasonex, a nonprescription drug for nasal congestion, shows a happy, buzzing cartoon bee singing its praises before the voice-over announces that it might cause glaucoma, cataracts and nosebleeds. We tune out the voice-overs, just as we don’t read the fine print.

Avandea might cause stroke, congestive heart failure or death. Enbrel for arthritis might cause tuberculosis, death. Chantex to help quit smoking might cause suicidal thoughts, nightmares and heart attacks. Celebrex might cause heart attacks or stroke and may lead to death.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg – tune in to any of the geriatric programs (“60 Minutes” is a good one), and you’ll see these ads one after another.

And of course we’ve all loved the erectile dysfunction ads, which turned a liability into an asset by warning against four-hour erections and then inexplicably show a couple outdoors in side-by-side claw-foot bathtubs, leaving us to wonder how consumation could possibly occur. (“It must make them really long,” a lady on a cruise ship quipped.)

Truth is, all drugs have side effects, some worse than others. You have a condition, and you do what you’ve got do. The evil aspect of the medical ads is that they try to convince you that you have a condition (lowT, highFib, restless leg, insomnia, depression, anxiety et al) and then offer a solution. They advertise directly to the patient and, if the side effects sound scary, reassure you that you can “ask your doctor.”

With all the money spent on advertising, no wonder the costs of drugs are so high. I just got a teeny bottle of eyedrops, holding perhaps a quarter of a teaspoonful of liquid, that cost $100. With a bottle that small, I couldn’t read a thing on the label, even with my trusty magnifying glass.

The least the drug manufacturers could do is make their pills distinctive. I take several tablets that are so similar I have to put little dots on them with colored magic markers (probably toxic) so I can tell them apart. And I watch the commercial-free movie channels lest one of my meds should appear in the scare ads.

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