How Americans Pay the Price for Drug Advertising

The United States is the most expensive place to buy prescription drugs in any other developed country. In 2017, Americans spent $457 billion on prescription drugs with a cost of 10 cents per person per day. This spending has increased since 2009 and it’s been rising for years as drug companies spend more than ever marketing their products with flashy ads and glossy catalogs that are unreadable by many users.

The “lowering drug prices” is a difficult task because the pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars on marketing drugs. Americans pay the price for drug advertising.

How Americans Pay the Price for Drug Advertising

We may be paying a high price for being one of only two nations in the world that permits direct-to-consumer medication advertising.

It’s impossible to turn on the television without hearing the current pharmaceutical commercial’s “consult your doctor” message.

Direct-to-consumer medication advertising was the sixth most popular advertising type in the United States in 2016.

Nonetheless, these advertisements, which are so frequent in the United States—80 are shown per hour, according to Nielsen—are a one-of-a-kind phenomena. New Zealand is the only other nation that allows direct-to-consumer medication advertising.

Direct-to-consumer medication advertising was the sixth most popular advertising type in the United States in 2016., and it continues to grow.

Leading medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association, are now advocating for a ban on consumer medicine advertising, echoing what many Americans already believe. Last year, 57 percent of respondents in a study conducted by STAT and the Harvard School of Public Health indicated they favored a ban on medication ads.

These advertisements do more than merely fill advertising time on the airwaves. The billion-dollar advertising budget of Big Pharma may lead to a slew of issues, including exorbitant medication pricing and adverse drug occurrences.

Big Pharma Advertising’s Evolution

The events that followed were critical in transforming Big Pharma into the advertising behemoth that it is today.

1969: FDA Allows Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Consumer advertising is allowed by the FDA to stimulate price competition. Advertisements must contain a concise explanation of the medication’s recognized health risks. Because the health dangers may be spread over numerous pages, paper is the only viable medium for advertising.

The FDA pulls the first commercial for a pharmaceutical drug in 1983. 

The first ad for Boots Pharmaceuticals’ ibuprofen, rufen, airs. The corporation simply promotes the medication’s price, thinking that since it doesn’t make any medical claims, it isn’t required to disclose the hazards. However, the FDA instructs them to stop airing the ad within 48 hours.

Claritin Discovers a Loophole in 1996

A ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Claritin commercial exploits a regulations loophole by not specifying what the medication is for, instead telling viewers to ask their doctors for details. By doing so, they don’t have to list the drug’s risks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reduces advertising regulations in 1997.

The FDA relaxes advertising laws in response to lobbyists and politicians’ pressure, mandating simply that businesses disclose a medication’s primary health hazards in commercials. Consumers may now be directed to another source for further information (a phone number, a website, etc.).


Prescription Drug Advertising Encourages Expensive Prescriptions

Pharmaceutical corporations spend nine out of ten times more money on advertising than they do on research and development.

Spending on pharmaceutical prescription commercials surged by 62 percent between 2012 and 2016, more than any other ad category. Drug firms spent almost $6 billion on advertising in 2016. 

This huge sum ultimately costs patients and impedes medical advances. Pharmaceutical corporations spend nine out of ten times more money on advertising than they do on research and development.

Companies are required to mention the biggest hazards in their advertisements, but they are not required to divulge statistics on the medication’s efficacy or if it is preferable to a generic version. Drug corporations actively promote their high-priced prescriptions, driving many Americans to request pricey medications over generic alternatives.

“Any reasonable person would favor a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising based on all the information.”

Generic drugs are 80 to 85 percent less expensive than brand-name pharmaceuticals, according to the FDA, and they fulfill the same safety and efficacy criteria.

In 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for a full ban on direct-to-consumer prescription advertising, citing this disparity. Direct-to-consumer advertising, according to the American Medical Association, “inflates demand for new and more costly treatments, even when these drugs may not be suitable.”

Dr. Ray Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow at Bond University and author of Selling Sickness, shared his opinions on drug marketing being outlawed completely.

“Any sensible person, operating independently of pharmaceutical industry influence, would favor a ban on this risky style of marketing based on all the data. [This] would undoubtedly lead to gains in health and the long-term viability of the health-care system “Dr. Moynihan said the following.

Side Effects are understated in drug advertisements.

The medication hazards indicated in a commercial were less likely to be remembered in an FDA research when they were broadcast with distracting images or music.

Drug firms are obligated to identify the negative effects of their prescriptions in advertising, but whether or not viewers recall this information is another matter entirely. There are no rules prohibiting the use of images, music, or other design elements to hide dangerous dangers.

A study on viewer attention during medicine advertising was done by the FDA in 2016. When the medication hazards were shown with distracting graphics or music, the agency determined that viewers were less likely to recall them. Instead, pictures of happy and healthy individuals, as well as the drug’s advantages, are commonly remembered by viewers.

The FDA accused popular birth control YAZ of downplaying the contraceptive’s hazards in advertising in 2008. Patients using YAZ had a 74% higher risk of blood clots than those on other oral contraceptives, according to the FDA. The business was also accused of exaggerating the contraceptive’s advantages by suggesting that it may assist with other health issues such as acne.

In 2008, the FDA sent a warning letter to YAZ producer Bayer, which stated:

These elaborate displays divert attention away from the significant concerns being given and make it harder for viewers to understand and grasp them… The cumulative result is to impair the conveyance of crucial risk information, diminishing these dangers and misleadingly implying that YAZ is safer than considerable evidence or extensive clinical experience has revealed.

Bayer broadcast a follow-up advertisement as part of a $20 million settlement with the FDA, clarifying that the contraceptive was not authorized for moderate acne or premenstrual syndrome.

(For page 2, see below.)

Normal Situations Become Diseases Due of Marketing

Drug prescriptions have increased in tandem with the growth in drug promotion. The typical American had seven prescriptions in 1992. That number jumped to 12 in 2008.

Ads, according to critics of direct-to-consumer medication promotion, are to blame for the surge. In an article for Harvard Men’s Health Watch, Dr. Ameet Sarpatwari noted, “The information is geared to tell you what it is for and why you need it—but not whether you need it.”

Patients in the United States are more empowered than ever before because to the internet, which may be a positive thing. Patients who are more educated are more inclined to seek medical help for an illness, seek second views, and so on. However, without a medical degree, individuals are unable to fully comprehend the possible adverse effects of a medicine or the precise symptoms of an unique medical disease that only a doctor would be aware of.

Critics believe that Big Pharma’s “disease mongering” might overstate the frequency of a rare medical ailment or convert a natural condition (such as aging) into a sickness that needs a drug. These disorders often depend on imprecise symptoms to make a diagnosis that may be applied to a large number of patients, which helps corporations sell more drugs.

“You can make practically anything into a sickness if you want to scare the people and have the advertising funds to do it.”

Arthur Caplan, a professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview for 60 Minutes, “You can make practically anything into a sickness if you want to scare the people and have the advertising funds to do it.”

As a result of the pharmaceutical business, critics point to a rise in diagnoses for adult ADHD, social anxiety disorders, erectile dysfunction, and other diseases. While there are individuals who really suffer from these illnesses, they are frequently in the minority compared to those who get therapy.

“We seem to be experiencing the most remarkable paradox: we have never been healthier, but we appear to be sicker and worse than we have ever been.” Mild symptoms, annoyance, being low-risk, aging, human life, and death are all being medicalized at an alarming rate, according to Dr. Ray Moynihan in an Atlantic piece.


Advertisements for testosterone therapy sell the drug to healthy men.  

Only half of males who had been prescribed testosterone medication in the preceding year had been diagnosed with hypogonadism.

Testosterone treatment is an excellent example of how hazardous false medication ads can be. Testosterone treatment medicines are used to help men with major injuries or conditions like hypogonadism regain their hormone levels. The advertisements, on the other hand, portray a different message.

Testosterone advertisements, such as those for AndroGel, portray testosterone treatment as an anti-aging panacea. Men are often asked whether they are fatigued or not as active as they once were, both of which are typical side affects of growing older.

Sales of testosterone treatment surged by 69 percent between 2005 and 2011 as a result of this campaign.

However, the hazards of testosterone treatment may exceed the advantages, particularly in men who should not be taking it. It’s been connected to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as almost 4,000 complaints of significant side effects.

Only half of individuals prescribed testosterone medication had been diagnosed with hypogonadism in the preceding year, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at 10 years of androgen research. Similarly, the FDA discovered that 25% of males on testosterone treatment had never had their hormone levels checked, making it impossible to tell whether or not they required the medicine.

In a Forbes article, Thomas Perls, a professor at Boston University, stated, “The lax standards [for prescribing testosterone] supplied a ticket for drugmakers to go go full-bore with advertising efforts.”

The FDA requested that testosterone treatment labeling clarify that it was only prescribed for males with hypogonadism or other major ailments as a result of the increase in off-label prescriptions.

The Number of Adverse Events Has Increased

Unnecessary prescriptions have resulted in a significant rise in adverse event reports.

In 2004, the FDA received 206,000 complaints of adverse drug and medical device reactions. In 2015, the figure was 1.2 million.

The FDA is proposing a regulation change that would enable drug makers to market off-label usage, which would almost certainly lead to an increase in adverse occurrences.

The FDA received 1.2 million reports of adverse events in 2015.

Medicine firms are now only permitted to promote FDA-approved applications of a drug or device. Doctors may, however, prescribe a medicine for an off-label use, and a 2006 research found that one out of every five prescriptions falls into this category.

Unfortunately, off-label usage are seldom backed up by solid safety evidence. Off-label medicines, in fact, are 54 percent more likely to induce negative effects.

Doctors are under pressure to provide prescriptions.

Regardless matter how effective direct-to-consumer medication promotion is, physicians are remain the final line of defense for patients. In most circumstances, though, this isn’t a problem for people who need a certain drug.

Many physicians confess to giving medications to patients who ask for them, even if they don’t need them. According to a Medscape research taken last year, 62% of physicians would prescribe an unneeded medicine if a patient wanted it.

If a patient required it, 62% of physicians would prescribe an unneeded medicine.

This was shown in a 2005 JAMA research with actors posing as patients. The patients in the first group had characteristic depressive symptoms, which frequently needed additional therapy. The second group said that they were depressed as a result of being laid off lately, a situation for which physicians would often wait before prescribing an antidepressant.

Paxil (an antidepressant) was mentioned by one set of patients, but not by the other. Researchers discovered that regardless of the severity of the symptoms described, clinicians were more likely to arrange mental health checkups and prescribe antidepressants for patients who mentioned Paxil.

Despite the fact that physicians are meant to have our best interests at heart, they confess to being concerned about patient retention and avoiding litigation. But the amount of physicians who are compensated by pharmaceutical firms is far more harmful. According to ProPublica, physicians who are paid by pharmaceutical corporations are more inclined to recommend their products.


Manufacturers of pharmaceuticals must be held accountable.

Patients must remain cautious and question the information they get from medication firms until Big Pharma’s advertising empire is reined in.

Check through our list of recent drug lawsuits to see whether your prescription has any negative side effects. If you or a loved one has been damaged by a medication or medical device, contact our legal team for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. We’ll assist you in determining if you have a claim against the manufacturer.

With the rising cost of prescription drugs, there is a growing concern about how Americans pay for their medications. The causes and solutions to this problem are discussed in the article. Reference: the rising cost of prescription drugs: causes and solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does drug advertising cost?

A: The cost of posting an ad for a drug is about $2,000. This includes the costs for everything from production to promoting it on social media.

How much do pharmaceutical companies pay for advertising?

Pharmaceutical companies pay for advertising to increase their reach and awareness. However, it is hard to figure out how much they are paying per ad because the costs depend on a wide variety of factors including where those ads will be shown and what type of media will be used in them.

How are drugs priced in the US?

A: In the US, most drugs are priced based on how much they cost to make. So if you ask how much is a prescription of Oxycodone, you would be told by the pharmacy that it costs $5 and a months worth of prescriptions would cost $150.

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