The way TV commercials tell it, being chronically ill is nothin’ but fun! Diabetes, COPD, Heart Failure, Atrial Fib, Plaque Psoriasis, Eczema, HIV…with the right pharmaceuticals every illness can be, well, wonderful.
Interestingly, all the people in these ads appear to be pretty well off, financially. Their homes are nice, with well-kept lawns, and entertaining friends by the barbeque’s a ball with the right medication. Madison Avenue is a equal opportunity employer so there’s plenty of ethnic and cultural diversity in these 30-second spots. Blacks, whites, Asians, young, old, gay and straight; whatever ails you Big Pharma’s got your back, just as long as you’re not poor.
Apparently, poverty’s no fun even if you have diabetes. No commercials feature hard-working, low wage earners harassed by vicious dogs walking into run down rental housing after 12-hour shifts. Nobody’s collapsing from hunger or cutting pills in half to stretch out prescriptions. Nope, Big Pharma seems to think their clients feel great, well enough to ride big-wheeled off-roaders, hike the great outdoors, and gather round the fire pit to laugh and gab with friends and family. It looks like so much fun it almost makes me wish I had diabetes.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. I do have diabetes. And heart disease. And even though I take seven prescription pills each day, I’m not having as much fun as the people in those commercials. Quite the contrary, I prick my finger to monitor my blood glucose level, walk four miles daily and stick to a restrictive diet. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my life, but it’s not because of medications.
There was a time, now very long ago, when prescription drugs were not advertised on TV. In those days, such drugs were only known to medical professionals who would prescribe them for their patients based on experience and clinical studies. Medications had long, scientific names and taking them was not promoted as something wonderful. Not so today; cute jingles adapted from pop hits are now combined with snappy names in a shameless appeal not to doctors, but to the general public. And not just any general public, but the general public that’s seriously ill.
Advertising is shameless, of course, but I find the current crop of Big Pharma commercials particularly repulsive. In one after another, cheerful patients are shown living it up while voice-over recites the possible side effects, from allergic reactions to increased risk of dying. “Don’t take it if you’re pregnant, report shortness of breath, internal bleeding has occurred, even death.” I mean, really.
This is called “push” advertising designed to build demand, directing pharmaceutical messages to ill people in an effort to get them to ask their doctor to prescribe it. Everyone in the ads look so happy, maybe – so the strategy goes – ill people will want to be happy, too. Of course, the happiest people are at the drug companies, currently making multi-billion-dollar profits at a record pace.
I’m dreading the arrival of the new crop of anti-COVID-19 medication commercials, which will use a catchy name like “Copavida,” show people in crowded bars laughing and dancing and feature a cute jingle ripped off from Barry Manilow’s 1978 hit single, Copacabana. And of course, call your doctor in the event there’s bleeding from your ears or if your toes turn blue and drop off.