28 April 2008

Medicated America

Pharmaceutical advertising in the United States over the past ten years has been socially ever-present. Television, radio, billboards, waiting rooms--most everywhere can be found the likeness of a smiling user of Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin, Prozac, Viagra, or one of a slew of countless other drugs which all conclude with the same message: "Ask your doctor."

The attention-grabbing pharmaceutical ads seem to imply that the only way a person should be is carefree and happy, and that the desired state can easily be attained by asking for a prescription for the associated drug. A few things here. One, while I like to see smiling people as much as the next person, is it really true that only experience people want is to be happy? The pharm ads create a message that says that you can either be up (cheerful) or down (depressed, miserably uncomfortable, unfulfilled), and that by using the advertised product you will have the best chance of being 'UP'. The ad, as a manipulating agent, modifies the audience's "sense of options by affecting the person's understanding of the situation (Ethical Theory and Business, 279)." That is to say, the ad leaves little room for the full range of emotions which can occur--and be meaningfully experienced--between an 'up state' and a 'down state'.

Two, the message to "ask your doctor" is more leading than it sounds. In today's health care market, it is my perception that most doctors will write prescriptions to satisfy most patients' requests, pending somewhat of an understanding of what the drug does on the end of the requester (which we all have from pharm ads) and a consideration for any obvious health hazards that may exist (pregnant women, heart-diseased adults, under-aged teens). Where conceptually one might think this "asking" of a doctor about a pharmaceutical product is a qualified system of checks and balances, pharmaceutical marketing tactics shape the situation differently. Drug-sales representative are known to pamper and even 'bribe' physicians in such a way when pitching their companies' products that many a doctor may be inherently predisposed to writing 'blockbuster' pharmaceutical prescriptions--exactly the ones that armchair 'downers' are asking about. Carl Elliott says that "pharmaceutical company marketing undermines the objectivity of prescribing decisions made by physicians and unduly interferes with physician-patient relationships (282)."

Shouldn't a doctor be serving the needs of a patient's health instead of that same patient's manipulated want to ascend into Upness? Perhaps the general physician has simply been reduced to a messy (but respected) signature for an increasingly self-medicated America...


Lori Skoog said...

Seth...you are right on with your message. I will be 65 and try not to take any meds....now, the patient tells the Doctor what he wants, not the other way around.
The pharmaceuticals have a major grip on this country. You are a great writer....everyone should read this (they are the same people who don't think anything is wrong with putting pesticides on their lawns). Lori

Christy Wareham said...

There's something in the character of the country, today, that is manifested in the effectiveness of big pharma's marketing strategies. It says less about the character of big pharma, whose only moral obligation is to make the bottom line as fat as possible for the stock holders, than it says about the character of the populous. If we the people were not so susceptible to bogus advertising, the marketing strategy wouldn't work. The pharmaceutical companies would give up on it. But their marketing strategies DO work. So what do we do? Let the susceptible public get swindled? Or is there a social responsibility to make things honest and balanced?

If I forget to report a mole I mentioned to my doctor 10 years ago, my health insurance company holds me accountable and will cancel my policy upon the appearance of skin cancer. If that's the standard I have to live with, then I think all the other players in the health care system should be held to the same high standard. If that happens, big pharma will have much to answer for.

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