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Editorial: Should prescription medications be widely advertised?

I wonder if Richard Nixon would approve.

He started the war on drugs, you know.

If you spend any amount of time at all watching television, you’ve seen the commercials — pharmaceutical companies advertising their latest prescription-only cure all.

It usually starts with someone who is really down and out, sometimes even a cartoon character. They take this or that pill, and life is a complete turnaround and they’re happy 24 hours a day and are back to doing whatever it was they were doing before they “needed” this pill. The whole scene takes about 10 seconds.

And then someone who is obviously not from the South starts talking about the side effects (No true Southerner can talk that fast unless they’re a trained auctioneer). My gosh, a side effect of almost every one of those pills is death. And if you’re wanting to take a pill, let’s call it McDose, to help you go to sleep at night because you’re worried that those aliens from Area 51 are about to escape, do not, I repeat do not, take a McDose if you are allergic to McDose.

Say what?

So if you’re allergic, you shouldn’t take it? What a revelation.

I’ve never understood why prescription medications are advertised on mainstream TV. Shouldn’t they be advertised to doctors? Aren’t the doctors supposed to tell us what pill they think will help, not the other way around? How many doctors are out there who will fill a prescription for whatever medication you saw advertised on TV? Not very many, I hope.

A quick internet search revealed that the United States is only one of two countries that allow such advertising, with New Zealand being the other.

Why? Shouldn’t that money be spent on making those pills cheaper, or selling those pills cheaper? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a do-gooder promoting some type of program say that some of our elderly have to choose between their medications or groceries.

We regulate pharmaceutical companies and for good reason. In the late 19th century, the cure-alls were sold directly to consumers, often containing alcohol or cocaine or some other ingredient that wouldn’t even be considered today.

Take Listerine, for instance. It was first advertised as an anti-septic to be used after surgery. Then it was advertised as a floor cleaner. Then as a cure for gonorrhea. Finally, as a mouthwash. I use it often when I feel a cold coming on — as a mouthwash. I’ve never put it on a cut or washed the floor with it. I’m not even sure how it would be used for gonorrhea, and I’m darned sure I’m not going to look that one up.

But now, medications that can only be prescribed by a doctor are being advertised like you can go to the corner store and get a bottle.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the FDA could make companies quit advertising claims that weren’t true.

It was reported that in 2014, companies spend $4.5 billion advertising. Pharmaceutical companies are immensely profitable, according to all reports, with or without the advertising.

I blame us. We think there’s a pill that can cure anything. Not feeling so well? Take a pill. Can’t sleep? Take a pill. Can’t stay awake? Take a pill. Feeling lonely? Take a pill.

The drug companies will say that informed consumers can make the best decisions for themselves. That may be true, but trust an advertisement before your doctor?

I’m in a business that relies on advertising to remain in business, but these prescription medication ads are too much, and unnecessary. If a doctor thinks I should take this or that pill, let him or her talk to me about it. I’ve turned down a doctor’s advice before. It’s my body, not theirs.

And if a big pharmaceutical company wants to tell me I can be more alive, have less grey hair, drive the ladies wild, turn back time and have no aches and pains, I’m looking at the claims with skepticism.

Yes, Ronald Reagan started that war on drugs way back in 1970. But I think he may have chosen the wrong drugs.

Mike Barnhardt is editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.

Respect Quote of the Week

“Another way I show respect is by trying to remember that what I see or hear about someone may not be the entire truth because there is always more to a person’s story.”

— Sally Boger