Burke: Ask your doctor if dancing drug ads are right for you

Shouldn’t drug companies be spending more money on research — and cheaper drugs — than advertising?

By Tom Burke / Herald Columnist

I know man is a fragile creature;not as strong as the great apes; not as sharp-eyed as the eagle, as thick-skinned as the rhino, or as agile as the monkey.

And if anyone needs proof of our fragility, tune into Fox or MSNBC or most any TV channel and tally up all the advertising describing, in grim detail, how vulnerable we are to a plethora of maladies; as Big Pharma unleashes huge, all-pervasive, overwhelming volumes of “disease” advertising, running incessantly it seems, across the bandwidth.

Now I’m not trying to minimize the pain or tragedy suffered by anyone or the relief these medicines affect. But my propriety has been stretched thin by the huge budgets (way north of $6 billion) spent on direct-to-consumer ads trying to convince patients … to convince their doctors …to prescribe this or that treatment.

And I am more than mystified why Big Pharma has targeted so many [to me at least] relatively-obscure ailments with what Harvard Medical School identifies as basically second-rate drugs. I’m sure all the maladies are real, but until the advertising began I’d never heard of many of them (and I lived with a health care-professional for 52 years).

Now, about the ads (all viewed in about six hours of news over three night):

• We note how the Good Feet Store soothes aching arches, while UptiNail wipes out the stigma of toenail fungus.

• For our pointy little heads, there’s Botox injections to cure migraines (oops, not “cure” but rather “relieve the suffering,” which their lawyers apparently think an important distinction) and turn back aging’s clock by (temporarily) erasing wrinkles and crows’ feet. Quilpa and Nurtec also claim victory over migraines but do nothing for frown lines.

• Now Jardiance will lower your A1C (while raising your blood pressure if not your distain for idiot-looking-actors cavorting through a park or office, singing(?) and dancing(?) and grinning their way through type-2 diabetes.

• And BlueChew will raise something different, mid-male-body, as a bevy of young women generously filling out some very plunging necklines extol the virtue of (generic) Viagra or Cialis pills as they compete against Ro Sparks (not FDA approved), another ED cure, costing $12 a dose or double the cost of generic Viagra.

• Of course if the pills don’t do the trick, therapy is just a phone call away via the “Better Help” online psych counseling service that could also assist in the management of Peroni’s disease, another mid-male-body affliction one needs a mis-shaped carrot or zucchini to visualize.

Diabetes is a big, bona-fide, and widespread life-threatening problem so there’s a ton of money spent on i; starting with the aforementioned Jardiance and spreading from implanted blood-sugar monitoring devices ala DEXcomG7 to Oh-Oh-Oh-Ozempic [with a weight loss side-benefit).

And let’s not forget the drive for whiter teeth (get Sensodine); improving six digestive functions with Iberogast; growing hair with Nutrafol; getting more protein drinking Ensure; fixing gum disease by brushing with Parodontax; stop sweating under your arms, boobs and beltline with Carpe; treat skin rashes with Otezla; and get a less dangerous scrub-in-the-tub by installing a 3”-sill Safestep shower enclosure.

There’s a lot of TV time and money devoted to “empowering” you to sell your health care professional on what they should be prescribing for what ails you including meds for cancer, Kisqali and Opdiv+Yervoy; Dovoto and Cabenuva for HIV; Trelegy for COPD; Ingrezza for tardive dyskinesia; Vyvgart for myasthenia gravis; Prevnar for pneumonia; “NoTimeToWait.com” for AFIB/stroke risk; Arexvy for respiratory disease; Cologuard for colon cancer testing; Farxiga for kidney functions; and Airsupra or Fasenra for asthma rescue.

And if you can’t remember all that magic medicine, they’re selling (OTC) Prevagen Memory Supplement to aid your recall.

But be warned, Harvard Medical School reports the Federal Trade Commission and the New York State Attorney General charged the Prevagen maker with false advertising back in 2017 and in February 2024 a New York jury found that many of the supplement’s claims were not supported by reliable evidence and some claims were “materially misleading”.

The hard truth about this product and other “dietary supplements” is that when you read the fine print, which plainly states — “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” — they are telling you their products don’t actually do anything provable, and it isn’t really medicine, and their claims are not regulated by anyone, especially not the FDA. So why take it? asks me.

I’ve saved my medical conundrum for last: modern medicines keep some of us alive (like with the covid, polio and flu vaccines!) and some of us out of pain. It’s a near-miracle without doubt.

But all that advertising, selling “cures” to the masses and trying to pressure docs into prescribing this or that, goes against my grain. And when you consider that Big Pharma spends more money on advertising than on actual research and development of new medicines (!!), I find more than a little distrust creeping into my consciousness.

In advertising the secret-to-success is maximizing reach and frequency; precisely targeting all your best the prospects (reach) and hitting them again and again with your message (frequency).

I compliment Big Pharma for choosing suitable reach vehicles – especially news – as it skews older. But the frequency of those goofy Jardiance dancers cavorting around the office insipidly singing about a disease that kills 400,000 Americans a year is just too much for me.

I’m so thankful god invented the mute button on my remote.

Slava Ukraini.

Tom Burke’s email address is t.burke.column@gmail.com.

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