Drug Advertising Far Too Common
It seems like only yesterday there was no such thing as prescription drug advertising. And now, there’s no escaping it.
In fact, TV drug ads are so common in the U.S., it’s hard to believe that only two countries in the world allow them: the United States and New Zealand.
To see just how far American pharmaceutical companies have fallen down the rabbit hole, let’s consider AstraZeneca’s TV ads for Movantik. This drug is used to treat an opioid side effect — namely, constipation.
That’s right. In the midst of a national health crisis — overdose deaths due to opioids — AstraZeneca has chosen to cash in on an apparently common side effect of opoiod pain meds: “opioid-induced constipation” (or OIC).
Let’s see if we can figure out how this all came about…
How Did We Get Here?
Before 1980, drug companies advertised only to the medical community. Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) simply did not exist.
Then in 1981, a few drug companies began testing the waters. The Food and Drug Administration reacted swiftly with a moratorium on ads, to allow research on the matter. The moratorium was lifted after a few years, but only to allow print drug advertising.
It took more than 14 years before TV advertising really caught on.
Why’s that? Because of the fine print. Specifically, the prescribing information which accompanies the medication. (You know, the paper insert which unfolds to the size of hand towel.)
The FDA would not allow TV drug advertising which did not include the “fine print.” Specifically, the ads had to list:
- Who should not take the drug
- When the drug should not be taken
- Possible serious side effects of the drug and, if known, what can be done to lower the chance of having them
- Frequently occurring, but not necessarily serious, side effects
The FDA calls this list the “brief summary,” meaning it’s just the prescribing information basics.
In addition, in the early days, a product could be advertised on TV only if:
- The ad presented both the brand and generic names for the drug, and more importantly
- There was no representation of what the drug was for.
Which is why the earliest drug commercials were very brief and rather strange.
Earliest TV Ads
For instance, some of the early ads for Rogaine simply stated, “Did you know that Rogaine was minoxidil?” or “I didn’t know that minoxidil was Rogaine.” Huh? Unless you already knew what Rogaine was, this ad made no sense.
On May 19, 1983, a commercial for the pain reliever Rufen (i.e., ibuprofen) aired. It was produced by Boots Pharmaceuticals, and it lasted all of 22 seconds: