Thick as Thieves? Big Pharma Wields its Power with the Help of Government Regulation
By Leslie E. Sekerka and Lauren Benishek
Americans are barraged by an endless flow of ads that claim to remedy medical maladies with prescribed drugs. The commercials depict productive and happy lives, with suggestive associations that human flourishing can be achieved via pharmaceutical intervention. The appeals are accompanied by an exhaustive inventory of potentially negative life-altering side effects. As ads end with this depiction of relational bliss through drug use, viewers hear a fast-paced listing of monotone non-segmented disclaimers, which can range from modest impacts (e.g., slight weight gain) to very serious implications (e.g., suicidal ideations). Research suggests that hearing about the risks of use may increase consumers’ trust in the advertising. Sufferers may also conclude that stronger means better (i.e., helping them more effectively manage their condition). Patients may prefer a name-brand drug because the medicine may have a higher perceived quality due to advertising and promotional activities. American consumers are enculturated to reinforce their desire for convenience and accessibility, while also wanting their pains to go away. Moreover, they expect to view ads that compel them to want novel products or new applications. When it comes to health, consumers tend to mitigate the risk of taking drugs. Cognitive dissonance fuels a process of rationalizing side effects as part of the cost of wellbeing.
Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA) refers to any promotional effort by a pharmaceutical company to present pharmaceutical drug information to the public in the lay media. Drug companies claim the ads are designed to educate patients, encourage doctor-patient dialogue, and move people to take more responsibility for their healthcare. Opponents suggest that this type of marketing tends to normalize obscure disorders, encourages people to believe they suffer from certain dysfunctions, and prompts framing uncommon diseases in a normal light. When pharmaceutical firms get U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a new product, under the auspices of health communication, the government enables them to market the drug and create demand where none previously existed.
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