Count the amount of pharmaceutical advertisements you see, hear or read each day. Big Pharma, a term used to collectively identify all pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, spends a large portion of their budget on advertising their products. Some people are surprised to learn that the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals. With 3.5 billion drugs or more prescribed each year, Americans buy more drugs per person than any other country. The availability and variety of drugs provided and marketed by Big Pharma is definitely a contributing factor to America’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
This may pose another question of why pharmaceutical marketing is allowed in the United States. The answer is the mighty dollar. While a large portion of their budget goes to advertising, another large portion of Big Pharma’s budget is spent lobbying on Capitol Hill. Whether it is to promote a new drug, to obtain FDA approval, or to sway Congress to approve increases in drug prices, the funding which could be better spent on safety and quality control is instead applied in the political arena. The likelihood of the advertising ever stopping is low because there is too much financially backed political influence. Recommendations to cease direct consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals cannot seem to gain any traction.
Should blame for our prescription pill epidemic be placed solely on advertising by Big Pharma? Of course not. There are a host of other factors contributing to the epidemic. However, financial gain, for the street level dealer to the lobbyist on Capitol Hill, is arguably the most influential factor resulting in America’s prescription drug abuse problem. For the first time in history, the global pharmaceutical industry is expected to reach over a trillion dollars in sales this year. Why would they stop advertising with those types of profits?
Furthermore, it seems our culture has evolved to believe the answer to every ailment is to take a pill for a cure. We want fast food, fast cars, fast phones, fast computers, and fast fixes to our problems. We want to swallow a pill to fix our bodies because it is easier and quicker. While a true and legitimate need for pharmaceuticals exists, the fact remains they are over prescribed in the U.S. To illustrate, the most astounding statistic is the quantity of hydrocodone sold in the United States in 2010 was enough to medicate every single adult in America for a month.
Free enterprise drives our culture. However, when profits become more important than human welfare, change has to come. Americans are vulnerable because we believe pharmaceuticals are the only answer. What happened to maintaining a healthy lifestyle? How many success stories have been printed about unhealthy or obese individuals taking several daily medications abruptly having no need for those medications after changing their lifestyles, losing weight and reaching a healthy body mass index? Why don’t more people spend time each day to practice yoga or meditation to reduce stress? Because it only takes 3 seconds to swallow a Xanax.
Unfortunately, Americans seem to want the easy solution and Big Pharma is well aware and more than eager to provide. We want to maintain our unhealthy lifestyle because it is easier and it conforms to our existing habits. If something goes wrong, we believe there is a solution to any ailment in a pill. Perhaps we should pay more attention to daily habits that cause ailments, like tobacco use, alcohol consumption, overeating, pollution, and lack of exercise. To address what ails us may require some time and new choices in how we live. If we want a sustainable healthy future, we need to fix our bad habits instead of always looking for the best and newest pill.