September 2nd, 2022 | Devon Kash

The case for banning pharmaceutical ads

Prescription drugs do not need to be advertised to the general public.
The pharmaceutical industry pays the bills for corporate news media through sponsorship and paid advertisements, but many of their drugs have caused harm, ended up on the streets and fuelled addiction. This is why it's time to give pharmaceutical companies the same treatment as the tobacco industry.
Purdue Pharma started the opioid epidemic of the 1990s when they released Oxycontin into the market. Ever since, the trend has continued and drugs like fentanyl and heroin have ended up on the streets and in the hands of drug dealers. Both drugs are inventions of the pharmaceutical industry and have been prescribed and promoted by doctors on the advice and commission of companies like Purdue. Every year, the pharmaceutical lobby gets bigger in both Washington and Ottawa, with more than $400 million per year being spent on influencing politicians and lawmakers in North America. Around the world, more than $2 billion is spent annually on lobbying by multinational pharmaceutical giants.
On average, there are more than 90,000 opioid deaths in the United States per year and more than 15,000 in Canada. In both countries, more than 15% of those deaths are caused by prescription opioids.
In more than 30% of cases, drug addiction starts with prescription drugs. Prescribed for pain, sleeplessness and anxiety, drugs like fentanyl, fluoxitine, oxycontin, heroin, zolpidem and methylphenidate have acted as gateway drugs for more than a quarter of drug addicts in both Canada and the United States. All of those addictions started as prescriptions from doctors to treat minor afflictions. At some point, when doctors refuse to continue prescribing these drugs, their patients find more dangerous and highly illegal alternatives.
It is difficult to watch mainstream television without seeing advertisements for anti-depressants, pills for erectile dysfunction, new diabetes drugs and pills designed to reduce HIV positivity. In both Canada and the United States, most television is consolidated into a handful of corporations, meaning that the same companies that own the entertainment networks own the news networks. Shaw, Bell and Rogers own the news networks and all of Canada's entertainment networks. When we see pharmaceutical ads on the History Channel, the revenue from those ads is going to the Shaw Family's entertainment conglomerates—the same companies that own Global News.
The Pharmaceutical industry is one of the corporate media's top five largest sponsors in North America and has also worked its way into influencing Google searches and news stories, making it more difficult for anyone to find negative stories about the industry.
To put it into perspective for those who doubt the industry has influence on what we hear and see in the news, we can consider the significant reduction in advertising revenue that every news and entertainment network in Canada would face if the pharmaceutical industry was barred from selling their advertisements on television and the internet.
A simple 30-second ad spot can cost upwards of $100,000 during prime time hours. This is when ratings services that provide data on viewers become important. The more people that watch a show, the more the networks can charge for a highly coveted ad spot. A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl averages more than $1,000,000. This is how mainstream, corporate networks make a majority of their profits.
Day time ad spots can cost significantly less, which give the pharmaceutical industry the opportunity to fill the gaps with a higher quantity of advertisements and to target the older demographics. Watch any one of your favourite re-runs or soaps during the day and count the number of pharmaceutical ads during each commercial break.
In most cases, advertisements for pharmaceuticals are unnecessary and highly predatory.
Prescription drugs do not need to be advertised. Choosing which drugs to take for certain conditions and ailments is best discussed between patients and their doctors. There is absolutely no reason in which a highly effective drug would need to be sold and advertised to the general public. In nearly every case, a member of the general public is not qualified to make decisions or recommendations on which drugs to take for their own medical conditions. Encouraging them to “ask your doctor about...” is not only unnecessary, but highly predatory in nature. A qualified doctor who has taken the Hippocratic Oath and has their patients' best interest in mind does not need to receive recommendations from anyone without a medical degree.
There is currently a campaign by Canadian physicians to ban the fossil fuel industry from running advertisements on the grounds that their products cause harm to the environment and, therefore, to all people. Think about that.

The Industry Is Known For Corruption

The pharmaceutical industry is well known for its scandals and corruption. Films have been made about it and books have been written about the various acts of bribery, influence and illegal practices of high level pharmaceutical corporations.
Dopesick with Michael Keaton is a great example.
To date, Pfizer has the largest criminal fine on record in the United States for its illegal marketing of four drugs. In 2013, Danish pharmaceutical giant, Lundbeck, was fined by the European Commission for offering kickbacks for delaying the production of less expensive generic versions of one of its drugs. Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical giant, was fined for overcharging the Department Of Veterans Affairs between 2002 and 2011 for devices used to treat veterans. Another Danish giant, Novo Nordisk, was fined in 2017 for failing to disclose the cancer risks of one of its drugs.
The list of companies and fines go on and very few companies have stayed off the list.
Pfizer manufactures an infamous erectile dysfunction drug that can still be seen on billboards and in television ad spots, as well as many popular over-the-counter pain relievers and vitamins. Lundbeck runs ads for a drug that starts with an 'R', used to treat depression and mood disorders. Novo Nordisk runs ads for a diabetes drug that also starts with an 'R', while Sanofi runs ads in Canada for a drug that prevents asthma attacks.
The chances of any Canadian looking up a drug from the last advertisement they saw and finding that it is produced by a multinational pharmaceutical giant that has been fined for an egregious offence are as high as being hit by a car while standing in the middle of the 401 in Toronto.
The industry's history of corruption and bribery, as well as the harm caused by many of its products, is just cause to ban the advertisement of prescription drugs from television, print and digital marketing. Under no reasonable circumstance should it be considered necessary, or moral, to encourage the general public to ask their doctors about potentially harmful drugs. The discussion about which drugs to take should be between a qualified doctor and their patient. A drug that is proven effective and safe can be disclosed and recommended by qualified doctors, not by multinational pharmaceutical corporations with an objective to make profits.
September 2022

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