Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The Missus and I were sucking on the Great Glass Teat - that’s a metaphor for watching television, you that have filthy minds - when yet another advertisement for an Ethical Pharmaceutical came on.

The airwaves are full of ’em these days.

You can tell a lot about the drivers of a country’s economic engine by the ads you see on the Boob Tube. Judging by the ones I’ve seen in the last hour, America is a land obsessed with automobiles and ready-to-eat food. And drugs. Lotsa drugs.

It should be no surprise that advertising for various and sundry medicaments is becoming more and more prevalent. Our country’s population is aging, and with that aging comes a host of age-related afflictions. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better...because it won’t get better until the Boomer Generation dies off.

Anyone who is old enough to remember television in the 1950’s and ’60’s would have predicted that the airwaves of the early 21st century would have been packed with plugs for the same types of products that were being sold to Golden Agers back in the day. Pain medications. Denture adhesives. Geriatric vitamin supplements. Anacin, Bufferin, Excedrin ads. Poli-Grip. Geritol (“My wife...I think I’ll keep her!”).

But no.

Ads for pain remedies, like the poor, will always be with us. Simple OTC preparations like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil) are plugged regularly. And there are also the Digestive Remedies. You don’t see as much advertising for laxatives on TV as you did 40 years ago, but maybe that’s because people aren’t as obsessed with taking a Daily Crap. Or because they’re buying Holistic Colon Cleanser on the internet.

What’s interesting are the ads you don’t see.

More and more people are keeping their teeth, thanks to fluoridation and other advances in dentistry...so ads for denture adhesives have become genuine curiosities. And when was the last time you saw a Geritol ad?

But what you see now - what you never saw in the 1950’s - is the relentless pushing of ethical pharmaceuticals. Prescription medications...for a mind-boggling array of ailments.

Wha’ hoppen?

Legislative changes in the 1980’s happened...changes that opened the door to the direct marketing of ethical pharmaceuticals to consumers. The Reagan-era climate of deregulation created a world in which the old restrictions on advertising by doctors and lawyers evaporated. Whatever restrictions - by law or by customary practice - there may have been on advertising prescription meds directly to Joe End-User were swept away.

At the same time, advances in chemistry, pharmacology, computer analysis, and an improved understanding of human biology at the molecular level fueled an explosion in the number of medications released to the burgeoning market. That explosion is driven by money.

It’s not cheap to bring a new drug to market: it must pass rigorous pre-clinical and clinical trials, generally over the course of many years. Most experimental drugs don’t make the cut, but they nevertheless incur huge developmental expenses. And from a cash-flow perspective, development expenses pile up for years before any revenue comes in...which puts a lot of pressure on the net present value of any potentially marketable drug. But the monstrous piles of money that (eventually) come in make it all worthwhile.

To make that money, you need market share. And it’s not enough to sell to the physicians, the ones who actually write the prescriptions. Now you have to pimp your pharma to the consumer, so they ask the doctor to prescribe a specific drug.

As a result, we are now bombarded by a constant stream of advertising for substances with unpronounceable names, intended to treat diseases we didn’t even know needed a pill to treat.

Forget about constipation or upset stomach. Now we’re getting ads for drugs that alleviate the symptoms of bad blood cholesterol, gastric reflux, urinary urgency, depression, allergies, brain cancer, and most important of all (of course!), Not Being Able To Get A Boner.

Each ad consists of 15 seconds of content and 45 seconds of disclaimers...the stuff you see in fine print on the drug’s package insert. May cause drowsiness, or anal leakage, or uncontrollable barking, or sudden death. Do not take with alcohol, MAOI inhibitors (whatever the fuck they are) grapefruit juice, or prune juice. Be sure your physician knows what other medications you are taking. May be habit forming. May cause a baby arm to sprout from the top of your skull.

Me, I’m thoroughly sick of these ads.

Let my doctor figure out what I need. That’s his job, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s part of what I pay him for.

Bring back the ads for stupid-ass OTC remedies. Geritol. Carter’s Little Liver Pills. Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. Fuck this Lipitor (Pfizer brand of atorvastatin calcium) shit.

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