Opinion

Bill Brotherton: Medicine mania

The other night I was watching the CBS Evening News, because I have no life. That’s not entirely true; I watched the news because that’s what old people do.

My wife was out with friends, and I decided to watch a little TV and whip up a scrumpdillyicious meal of Mac ‘n’ Cheese, smothered with a pound of hot dogs. There were no leftovers. I washed it all down with a couple of NBPT Brew Co.’s Green Head IPAs. Because that’s what guys do when their better-halfs are out with friends.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s hardly any news on the supper-hour news shows. But there sure are a lot of commercials, especially ads for drugs that will enrich our lives and make us immortal. Many of these medications are for ailments and illnesses I’ve never heard of. I swear the pharmaceutical companies create a demand for a pricey product that isn’t needed but will generate lots of moolah.

Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising has grown more in the past four years than any other ad category, exceeding $6 billion last year, with television the most-used medium. These ads are super slick, filled with  soothing music and images of beautiful, active, healthy people.

Last year, the top three ads based on total spending were Lyrica (nerve and muscle pain, $313 million); Humira (Crohn’s disease, $303 million); and Eliquis (atrial fibrillation or Afib and stroke prevention, $186 million).

The commercials are so compelling my wife saw one for Super Beta Prostate and was convinced it’d improve her health.

There’s an ad for Boniva, which should be the name of an erectile dysfunction drug if you ask me, which is used to treat or prevent osteoporosis in women after menopause. Prolia, which is said to strengthen bones and reduce arthritis pain, employs Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom Blythe Danner as its saleswoman.

Ads for Otezla (plaque psoriasis), Xeljanz XR (rheumatoid arthritis), Trulicity (diabetes) and others compete for my attention and health care dollars.

We see the same ads when we watch “Password Plus” on Buzzer, “Forensic Files” on Escape and “Columbo” reruns on MEtv. I guess old people are the only ones watching these programs, too.

Interestingly, the ads are targeted at you and me, not the doctors who should be calling the shots. Smooth-talkers implore us to ask our health professional if “(insert drug name here) is right for you.” Physicians must be sick and tired of being asked by patients if a certain advertised drug could help them.

For years, it seemed every drug ad was geared toward women. In Madison Avenue’s view, women were the only ones who suffered from incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and depression. It was as if men, even the ones who gorge themselves on Mac ‘n’ Cheese and hot dogs, were immune from sickness. But you’ve come a long way, dude. We need Gas-X (reduces bloating), “the purple pill” Nexium (heartburn) and Lipitor (high cholesterol) as much as the next gal.

“If you’re suffering from belly pain and constipation, Linzess may help you have more frequent and complete bowel movements that are easier to pass,” intones one cheery voice. Do they really need to run this while I’m eating dinner?

Another ad touts a miracle drug that’ll get rid of toe fungus. One of the side effects is death. Yes, death. (Scene at Bill’s wake: Friend No 1: “Poor Bill, gone, and so young”; Friend No. 2: “I know, but his toes look freaking amazing!”)

Ah, the side effects. During the 30-minute newscast nearly every drug advertised could cause “the swelling of lips, face and tongue.” “Lyrica (diabetic nerve pain) is not for everyone; it may cause serious allergic reactions or suicidal thoughts and actions.” “Elderly dementia patients taking Abilify have an increased risk of death or stroke.”

The injectible plaque psoriasis drug Taltz promises “the chance of completely clear skin.” But “don’t take Taltz if you are allergic to Taltz.” Huh? The cost: about $5,000 for a 1 milliliter supply and it’s not covered by insurance plans.

That’s the other thing. These miracle drugs are prohibitively expensive.

Opdivo, an immunotherapy for certain types of cancer, is advertised as “a chance to live longer.” It can cost as much as $150,000. Humira could cost $4,500 to $5,500 a month for two preloaded injection pens. Xeljanz XR costs close to $4,000 for 30 pills. Cialis seems like a hard bargain at $400 a month. Medical insurance won’t cover some of these. No wonder health care costs are out of control.

How would I react if I suffered from one of these medical conditions? Would I buy into the advertiser’s lofty claims?

I fear that these ads make the drugs seem better than they really are, providing false hope to individuals who are desperate to try anything that might make them feel better and live life to the fullest.

Perhaps I’ll market a pill, Dlish MnC, that tastes like Mac ‘n’ Cheese and hot dogs, guaranteed to comfort you and make you feel better. The only side effects would be the smacking of lips and a full belly.

More Stories In Opinion