Most aspects of American life are commercialized: from transportation to education to our medical system, corporations always find a way to squeeze money out of the population. One of the greediest practices is direct to consumer (DTC) advertisements for pharmaceuticals, which includes advertisements on television, movies, and brochures. The United States is unusual, however, in that it is one of the few countries in which advertising drugs is legal. DTC pharmaceutical advertising has been allowed since 1997, and since then it has caused major damage to the American people.
One major disadvantage of pharmaceutical advertising is that it contributes to the escalating costs of healthcare. A study by researchers at John’s Hopkins University found that the marketing and promotion of prescription drugs increases the price of drugs for consumers. These costs are particularly burdensome in the United States, where many people would struggle to afford medical care even without these extra costs tacked on by direct-to-consumer advertising, which does nothing to benefit the individuals it targets. In this environment that prioritizes turning a profit for large corporations over most everything else, pharmaceutical companies are often able to set unreasonably high prices for their products. This can increase the financial burden of healthcare on individuals, insurance companies, and the government—all while American Big Pharma turns billions in profits every year.
Not only does pharmaceutical advertising financially exploit people, it also has the potential to provide misleading health information. These advertisements often oversimplify complex medical conditions, promising quick and easy solutions with minimal side effects. In reality, the efficacy and safety of drugs are rarely as straightforward as they are portrayed in ads. Patients may become misinformed, developing unrealistic expectations, and potentially neglecting other effective treatment options. Misleading information can lead to inappropriate medication choices and negative health outcomes—yet somehow it is justifiable if it allows large corporations to stay absurdly profitable. Besides aggressive pharmaceutical marketing’s impact on prescribing the wrong medications, it can also lead to overmedication, as patients may request drugs they see advertised, even if it might not be a suitable or necessary treatment. Physicians, under pressure to satisfy their patients, may prescribe medications that are not entirely necessary. This overmedication can lead to adverse side effects, drug interactions, and a vicious cycle of polypharmacy, in which individuals take multiple medications simultaneously, with potentially harmful consequences for their health. Another concern is the portrayal of medication side effects in pharmaceutical advertisements. While these ads are legally required to disclose potential adverse effects, they often do so in a rushed or dismissive manner. This can downplay the risks associated with certain drugs, leading patients to underestimate potential harm. As a result, individuals might not be fully informed when deciding whether a particular medication is right for them.
After inhibiting access to healthcare by driving up prices and reducing the quality of care through misinformation, pharmaceutical advertising takes another hit at the population by undermining the trust and communication between patients and their healthcare providers. Patients armed with information from advertisements might question their doctors' recommendations or request specific medications. This shift in the power dynamic between patients and healthcare professionals can disrupt the doctor-patient relationship, making it more challenging for physicians to make informed decisions and provide the most appropriate care. Pharmaceutical advertising often focuses on symptom management rather than prevention. Medications are promoted as quick fixes for various ailments, and this approach tends to overshadow the importance of lifestyle changes and preventive measures. Consequently, individuals might be less inclined to adopt healthier habits, like improved diet and exercise, in favor of relying solely on medications.
While DTC pharmaceutical advertising in the US remains legal under the guise of improved health awareness, we cannot in good conscience continue to prioritize corporations over the well-being of the people.