Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drug Ads vs. Scare Tactics

In The Wall Street Journal this week, there was an article titled Glaxo's HIV-Drug Ads Draw Critics that raised the notion that pharmaceutical companies might be using scare tactics to convince patients to stay on their current medications.

On the surface, this might not sound too bad. After all, scare tactics have been used in other health-related commercials. We all remember the screen with the frying pan and the cracked egg, and the voiceover that said, "This is your brain on drugs." Then there were ads in the 1980s and 1990s aimed at convincing teenagers of the dangers of having unprotected sex and contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

However, the concern with these new ads, such as the ones from Glaxo featured in the article, is that they seem aimed more at convincing patients not to try new medications. For example, one Glaxo ad showed shark-infected waters and included the message, "Don't take a chance--stick with the HIV medicine that's working for you." Although the ads don't mention a specific medication by name, they do carry the Glaxo logo.

A patient's decisions about medical treatment should be an informed decision and ideally should be made after consultation with his or her own healthcare provider. The treatment regimen that might be right for one patient, might be totally wrong for another. As new treatment options are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are made available to patients, they should be considered. Pharmaceutical companies shouldn't be trying to scare patients into staying on their own marketed drugs to avoid having them switch to a competitor's drugs. If the competitor's drugs are really better, then perhaps the pharmaceutical company tempted to run scare ads should focus more on their research and development and coming out with newer, better drugs of their own.

Many individuals are afraid to seek medical treatment, afraid to learn the truth about their condition, and afraid to hear the prognosis. They don't need to have more fear instilled in them about the actual treatment for their condition.

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