Drug companies’ aggressive marketing ‘harms’ public health: studies

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, February 28, 2011 16:30 EDT
google plus icon
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

Pharmaceutical companies’ covert promotion of drugs through free medical journals and aggressive marketing tactics affects drug recommendations and can harm patients, according to recently published studies.

“Covert promotion of pharmaceuticals is an important public health issue because it can contribute to the unnecessary overuse of certain drugs or lead to their off-label use without sufficient evidence of efficacy,” Dr. Aaron Kesselheim wrote in a commentary [PDF] published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

A study [PDF] published CMAJ in this month found that a medical journal’s source of funding affected drug recommendations. Journals that depended entirely on advertising to generate their revenue recommended specific drugs while journals funded solely by subscriptions usually recommended against the use of the same drugs.

Physicians rely on journals to learn about important medical information, such as recommended treatments for diseases.

“Over the past decade, the direct-to-physician promotion of pharmaceuticals has led to the widespread inappropriate use of drugs such as rofecoxib, rosiglitazone and certain anti-psychotic drugs, which in turn has resulted in increased morbidity and mortality for patients,” he continued. “Commercial sources of information for these and other products have consistently overstated their benefits and underestimated their risks.”

A related study, published in January in the American Journal of Public Health, found drugs that pharmaceutical companies marketed most aggressively to physicians and patients tended to offer less benefits and more harm to patients.

“This is not a random occurrence, but rather a repeating, planned scenario in which drugs, discovered with good science for a specific set of patients, are marketed to a larger population as necessary, beneficial and safer than other alternatives,” Howard Brody, a professor and director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at UTMB Health and co-author of the study, said.

“Marketers are just doing their jobs. However, the reality is that for most new drugs, safety and efficacy are scientifically proven for only a small subset of patients. It’s time for physicians to take a stand and not prescribe them so readily.”

Pharmaceutical companies have exaggerated safety and efficacy claims and encouraged unapproved uses of drugs, according to the authors of the study.

For example, a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and University of Chicago found a lack strong evidence that atypical antipsychotic medications, a top-selling class of drugs, actually helped most patients. The study was published January 7 in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety.

“There is an unintended, but direct conflict between pharmaceutical marketing and public health,” Brody said. “Physicians should approach commercial marketing by pharmaceutical companies with a critical eye. Future reform polices should look to reduce, minimize and limit these practices. Patients can also play an important role by being more skeptical of drug ads.”

Brody and his colleagues said the writing of usage guidelines should be restricted to groups free of commercial conflicts of interest and that research focused on safety and efficacy should be independently funded. In addition, the authors called for a neutral agency, such as a branch of the National Institutes for Health, to conduct drug trials.

“Further funding from governments or other sources not affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry for the development of such information would promote rational prescribing and better outcomes while reducing the need for prescription fees,” Kesselheim added. “Most physicians would be happy to receive additional information about the proper use of drugs that is both effective and free of bias, but the medical community needs to do a better job of creating and disseminating this information without the influence of pharmaceutical advertising.”

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.
  • http://www.BaltimoreGreenCurrency.org Shrapnel

    Cannabis is the best medicine.

  • http://www.octive9.com octive9

    The other drug war!

  • Anonymous

    “Covert promotion?” Jeez, everywhere I look there’s some type of drug ad. How is that “covert?”

  • Anonymous

    I can really agree with this article. It would be nice if all the drug advertising were eliminated from the TV. But then they do have a right to advertise. Maybe require that their ads be limited to 15 seconds that includes a ten second explanation of the side effects.

  • Anonymous

    People shouldn’t take ANY drugs. It’s so funny this study comes up now. Everytime I watch american tv I see an ad for a drug that says ‘it may help you breathe better but also may cause you to suffocate while you sleep or die suddenly when walking on the street”

  • Anonymous

    exactly why big pharma and their co-conspirators in the govt and MSM continue to demonize it.

  • Anonymous

    no they shuuld not be advertising. they do not advertise in other western countries….it makes the costs skyrocket and makes drug users out of people with toe fungus.

  • Anonymous

    Big pharma is the huge reason health care costs are out of control.
    You take one drug for one thing, next thing you know you are taking a slew of drugs to offset side effects of the first drug.

    It’s legalized drug pushing.

  • Anonymous

    Big pharma is just the Biggest Pusher on the street with the “MD”s in their back pockets. Every week there is a new syndrome created for BP to push their garbage on a public willing to buy. Itchy leg syndrome, restless leg syndrome, dry mouth syndrome, for zeus sake stop thinking that pills are going to solve every little thing in this life. Turn off the tv and get your fat lazy butt off the couch and exercise, drink plenty of water, and stop putting garbage down your pie hole. 90% of the bs syndromes and psyco depressions would more than likely be solved following this protocol.

  • Anonymous

    I stood in line at a pharmacy in a hospital and listened to the chemist tell a patient the reasons for the huge increase in the price of their medication was “supply and demand”. Not so fast I piped in. Prices hit the ceiling when drug companies started to ADVERTISE, and passed on the cost to the consumer.
    9 out of 10 drug samples given to me, I refuse. Why? Blame the birth control patch. I put that sucker on
    & within 30 minutes I was as sick as I’ve ever felt in my life.

  • kiboshki

    The complete phrase is “covert promotion of drugs through free medical journals and aggressive marketing tactics”.
    The “covert promotion” part refers to financially supporting medical journals; and presumably biasing the papers in those journals and the doctors that read/write them.
    The “aggressive marketing” part refers to the ubiquitous drug ads targetted at the more general populace.

  • CozmicSeer

    And to think that Bush and the Republicans(along with many Democrats) wouldn’t allow any discounting on deals with the Big Pharma companies. How do you think they got all of that(our) money to use on these stupid commercials? And why don’t the Republicans revisit this issue if they want to cut spending(other than the obvious greed and stupidity involved)?
    My remote is always handy so that I mute these commercials before they can get out more than a word or two. There is no way I’d let any MD push these bad drugs on me when there are good drugs that are available that actually work. Just listening a couple of times to the side effects should be enough to make anyone with some common sense think twice before allowing these promoted drugs in one’s body.

  • DesertWren

    The profit motive at work. When did greed stop being the root of all evil? Can you imagine if Jonas Salk had patented and sold his polio vaccine to make a profit? We would still be suffering from polio as eradicating the disease would have negatively impacted the corporation’s bottom line that purchased the vaccine. Can’t make a profit selling a vaccine for a disease that no longer exists. That is why the profit motive must be removed from all public health issues. It creates the incentive to keep everyone ill so that you can profit off of treatments rather than cures.

  • Anonymous

    Pharma was not able to market their products on TV until the coup d’état during Reagan’s administration. Like the Fairness Doctrine, anything that prevented the public from being exposed to drug pushers and liars was removed. De-Regulation was the cry. Now we have Restless Leg Syndrom and Woody enhancers along with the Propoganda that is pushed through the now corporate owned media. I wonder how long it will take for people to remove Reagan as a Beacon of American exceptionlism.

    He was a delusional stupid old man when elected. He turned in his peers as being Communists, smoked pot and ran a Union. Always known to be a not-so-bright person, he was the perfect tool for those who have brought us to this point, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Kissinger and the rest of the New World Order / Free Traders.

    He was telling the truth when he said he did not know anything about the Iran Contra affair. He was just a puppet.

  • gypski®

    They should ban drug advertising just like they ban hard liquor and tobacco. Its a come on for the unwary to their poisons that kill. Everybody smoke pot!!!

  • Anonymous

    “But then they do have a right to advertise.”

    WHY? There is no “right to advertise”. There are MANY things you will NEVER see advertised because there are laws against it. For example there are no cigarette ads on TV or on billboards.

    Please tell us WHY the consumer has any need of ANY of the information in a perscription drug advertisement. Explanations of side effects etc. are THE DOCTOR’s JOB, NOT THE TELEVISION!

  • Anonymous

    Advertising or incentives for prescription drugs should simply be banned. If you can’t buy it on a shelf, it shouldn’t be pointed at the layman

  • Hologram5

    That’s is some good freaking news. This is getting out of hand. We’ve become a docile people through medication whether it be through anti-depressants or food, we are getting drugged.

  • Anonymous

    The American people needed a study to figure this out. Advertising of all drugs, prescription and non-prescription as well as all alcoholic beverages should be severely restricted if not banned.

  • gypski®

    CNN had the Seattle Marijuana Farmers Market on the news this AM. It looked like it was doing booming business. All you needed was your doctor’s authorization.

  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

    spends more money in marketing then research
    plus an army of detail men bribing MDs
    monetary control of the FDA
    Big Pharma Big Profits
    black box warning
    bad drugs

  • Anonymous

    Drug salesman and free samples should be legally banned from doctors offices. It’s the pharmeceutical companies way of turning us all into gunea pigs. Combine that with offshore drug production that is out of the reach of the FDA and the slaughter of the innocent and defenseless will touch everyone. The conservatives continue to try and curb or take away your right to legal redress. The time for a slave rebellion is now!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been immersed in the mental health field for the last 10 years. They run the drug trade like a commodity and there is no real concern for people’s well being. The handsome drug reps come in with their fancy packaging, their falsified statistics, their lovable attitude (they always have a disabled kid or relative that is dear to their heart), and for sure their FREE FOOD. These guys would buy food for us every Tuesday and it would be catered by some small-box, corporate restaurant (applebees, ruby tuesday, etc) and it would be every week. I loved the little hamburgers, because I could load my pockets full of them and pass em out to my homeless clients. =P

    These guys push drugs like they are the next saving grace. The sales reps really have no impact on Psychiatrists because they have been practicing for a while and they are pretty set in their methods. It’s these Nurse Practitioners that go to school for a few years and then have the ability to prescribe drugs. They have ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS doing what they do. You would be better off having me prescribe meds. These NPs are a danger to our society. They are easily manipulated, reading their magazines, pamphlets, and drug studies. The NPs are the ones that come to these “Drug Deals” and listen to the load of shit from the sales rep, who has no clue what the drug does. NO CLUE. Then they kick it out like its the next best thing, and my clients are suffering horrible side effects, dyskinesia, paranoia, and delusions. Then they say you have to wait 2-4 weeks for your body to adjust. By then, the people are never the same.

    Then there are the samples. You should see the loads of samples that drug companies kick out. I had access to BOXES of drugs, Im talking 100,000 of pills that were just in sample packages. Most medical centers are run like this. There is a free-for-all in dispensing drugs, and there is no end to it. If one drug doesn’t work, they try a different one. If that doesn’t work to well they add another. If that one has a little side effect, they add a side effect pill. Then their blood levels and liver levels get out of wack and they need to take blood pressure pills or cholesterol pills, and then they are turning diabetic because of the massive weight gain some of these people experience. Im talking gaining 100 pounds in 6 months. Then they look to get all meds paid for, anyhow, anyway. There are patient assistance programs, state funds, federal funds, grants, almost anything. My office had a person designated to just find a way to get meds paid for. Guess who takes on that debt?

    It’s a huge SCAM and it needs to end!!!! NOW!!!!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve served a large population of schizophrenics. If they drink alcohol, they fail miserably. If they smoke JUST ganga, they are generally successful. But, that has been just my observances.

  • Anonymous

    Sacrifices must be made if Big Pharma folks are to be, and remain, rich.

  • Anonymous

    Really???? You don’t say? Good rule of thumb, if they advertise it on tv then you shouldn’t use it.

  • Guest

    People must want to be responsible for their own health, they must want to become educated. The drug companies and their government are not going to change their behavior. People will have to wake up, period.

    The solution is the same for this, for Monsanto, for Walmart, for corporate money in politics. We stop giving them our money and they will wither and die.

  • Guest

    Hmm, and so as the “war on drugs” rages on, we are inundated with advertising for drugs. This kind of advertising used to be illegal.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/GMONWJ5YEAUTI3MIRGEWG66WSE gillaroo

    Drugs and circus.

  • Anonymous

    I agree 110% with this article, and especially with this comment:

    “Patients can also play an important role by being more skeptical of drug ads.”

    Pharmies should NOT be marketed directly to the consumer. Am I going to go to my doctor and ask for Seroquel because I saw a really happy person on TV? I want my doctor to prescribe the best meds based on his/her research and my medical history, not based on some slick add produced by BBD&O.

  • Anonymous

    “Please tell us WHY the consumer has any need of ANY of the information in a perscription drug advertisement. Explanations of side effects etc. are THE DOCTOR’s JOB, NOT THE TELEVISION!”


  • enorceht

    i have a nephew who was seeing an NP and i’d like to add that at one point because the dosage he was first taking didn’t work they kept increasing the dosage until it was well beyond a safe amount and when that was’t working they finally gave him another pill. thankfully he has found a much more reliable care giver.

  • cannotvote

    Here’s a rather amusing piece about Mayjane vs Viagra – enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahlWufJqcSQ

  • Anonymous

    Which is why the DEA wants to reschedule it from I to III so BigPharma can use it while keeping it out of people’s hands.

  • Anonymous

    Only two countries (New Zealand and the US) allow this awful direct to public advertising. The American people pay the highest price in the world for medication and it is estimated that at least one third of the cost of our pills is for advertising.

  • Scuby

    Were you sleepy when you woke up this morning? Wakacid can help!
    Did your crap smell when you took a dump today? Stinkacid can help
    Do you get headaches after an all night drinking binge? Hangocid can help!
    Do you bleed when you accidentally cut your finger? Bleedocid can help?
    Do you have mood swings shortly after a death in the family? Moodocid can help!
    Are you irritable at your job? Angercid can help!
    Are you breathing? Breathacid can help!

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Another brilliant study from the Duh Department. But this is what happens when Big Pharma is permitted to pump billions of dollars in brainwashing campaigns to make the unsuspecting suckers to walk into their quacks’ offices and demand that they want this purple pill or that pink pill or the red one over there. Or maybe all of them at once.

  • Johnny Warbucks

    There’s so much on that topic and so scary. Look at this so you can appreciate how deep it goes and how dangerous it is:

    17,000 doctors cash in drug company money, report finds
    2010-10-19, MSNBC/Reuters

    Posted: 2010-10-24 20:32:10


    These quacks are now going as far as pushing some of the toxic shit on their patients something which should be right out illegal. I was actually in one such office and they were recommending to people that they take Espartame-laden shit. I kid you not.

  • Whatever_happened_to_courtesy

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of psychiatric treatment, I agree. My bi-polar manifested in my early twenties during a stressful college period. So, knowing it ran in my family, I sought help. I had to drop out of college in order to pay for my very expensive medications. Eight years later I lost my job and therefore my health insurance. By then I was on five medications to manage my mood. I was up to 60mg (!!!) of Paxil with Abilify to help it. I was taking 2 mood stabilizers (both high doses) and I had an anti-anxiety medication for panic attacks. Well, without the regualr routine of a job, the taking of my meds fell to the wayside. Until one day I realized I felt GOOD and hadn’t taken anything in two weeks. Better than I’d felt in a decade. I only needed those medications because I was in very stressful environments (college, then the job). Since then, I’ve been managing my mood by managing my stress.

    Don’t get me wrong: without psychiatric help, I would likely have killed myself. It was necessary … at the time. But for me, it would have been more helpful to get to the root of the problem (the stress) than to continue to up my dosage year after year. Since then, I’ve been very aware of my moods. Lately, I’ve been very manic (and my clean house shows it!). But I’ve curbed my more destructive manic behaviors, such as the spending I used to do or the fits of rage (usually caused by the stress of my job).

    Doctors and medications have the place and their uses, but they need to know when to stop the drugs too.

  • Sandi

    Really? You haven’t learned from history yet? It’s the restricting and banning of things like drugs and alcohol that causes the rise in crime. Geez. . . research Prohibition then compare to the War on Drugs. Making things you don’t like illegal just because is never the answer.

  • Leonard Krivitsky, MD

    Cannabis prohibition is doomed to failure, as it is based on a series of total “un-realities”, which no amount of repression can make “real”. Cannabis is NOT physically addictive as it lacks a documented physical withdrawal syndrome, the so-called “gateway drug theory discredited as invalid, much touted by the DEA drug Marinol is not at all the same as medicinal cannabis, smoking Cannabis does not increase the risk of lung cancer, and cannabis use suppresses violent behavior. These are REALITIES! To further say say that Cannabis plant does not have medicinal properties is simply delusional and is a complete “break” with “reality”. If anti-Cannabis repression by the DEA and its allies were to be intensified, the rate of alcohol, cocaine, opiates, other hard drugs, alcohol, and dangerous prescription drugs would increase sharply. Neither the DEA, not its minions can make people perceive Cannabis as “unsafe”, where is in reality it is quite safe, much safer than alcohol and other alternatives. With the rise of the use of alcohol/hard drugs, the amount of violence and mayhem in this society will also rise, something that every mother and wife should consider. In these hard economic times our so-called “representatives” do not even dare talking about cutting the bloated DEA budget, especially its so-called “marijuana” enforcement, while they are willing to discuss cutting everything else. This is because the DEA and its minions are very good with attaching labels, and no one wants to risk being “labeled” as “soft on drugs”! The employment drug tests have a potential of “screening out” “Picassos”, and Lady GaGa’s, and Willie Nelsons, but letting people like Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson slip through (if the employers are “lucky”). And to say that Cannabis Plant does not have medicinal properties is simply delusional! Cannabis prohibition, as based on glaring scientific and philosophical “un-realities” can never succeed in the long run, it has a potential to do a great deal of damage to society, to exacerbate the Nation’s hard drug, alcohol and violence problems, and it should be abolished ASAP!

  • Sandi

    Another good reason for Single-Payer Health Care!

  • Anonymous

    I never suggested banning drugs or alcohol only the advertising of them and the marketing of them which guarantees that pills will improve your sleep, anxiety, sex life and so on and that beer will enable anyone to have a dramatically improved sex life surrounded by beautiful women or men. Would you like your children to believe the Marlboro Man and start smoking?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QMPOO3PZFN7XV2XZKCGSXXR3WM Joe Somebody

    They have a right to advertise because we GIVE them that right. We could also take that right away.. Corporations are not people, their rights are not guaranteed by the Constitution, their rights are granted (and revoked) through law. All one needs to do is look over a little history and some older court cases. A piece of paper used to structure vehicles of profit are not humans. Period.

    In other countries, drugs are not allowed to be advertised on TV. The idea being, the average schmuck watching American Idol isn’t educated enough on pharmacology to make an informed decision, no matter how pretty the pictures are on the TV.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QMPOO3PZFN7XV2XZKCGSXXR3WM Joe Somebody

    Hard liquor isn’t banned from TV.. I see Captain Morgan and Blue Sky Vodka ads all the time.

  • http://harry-canary.myopenid.com/ Harry Canary

    Every drug company hires attractive females, almost exclusively, to be their reps. I have known a couple who were hired because they had won beauty pageants. They knew nothign about what they were selling. They got to the doctors and the health care companies to push their products. There has been and probably continues to be incentives and gifts for doctors who use their products as well. The free samples are common. The only good side to the free samples is that many doctors give them to poor patients without insurance to try to help.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but our Fascists don’t care.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QMPOO3PZFN7XV2XZKCGSXXR3WM Joe Somebody

    The idiocy comes from a profit motive. Doctors give you what you demand (even when they know it’s bad for you) because they need to keep you as a patient if they are to pay their bills. Doctors let you kill yourself because they need to pay their bills.

    In fact, the “drive” for money is the root cause of virtually all the problems in our society. People needing money to survive causes crime when there is no access to legal means of generating money. That’s not good enough for the profit-mongers, they had to convince the public they “need” more and more useless bullshit; the claim is that the more baubles you have, the better of a person you are.. the more likable you are, the more likely you are to get laid, etc. etc.

    In a system like that, with only a very few people “owning” the resources/planet, that makes us all slaves.. 200 years ago, the planet was huge and _everyone_ had the option of roaming off and staking a claim to natural resources and “being their own man”… Today, the planet is tiny and fully owned by those that “came before”. You must beg and be enslaved just to survive, never mind having a “good life”.

    The medical industry just follows suit. It attempts to pretend that sickness can be a natural resource to be exploited as a means to get money. Preying on the need for food and shelter wasn’t enough, now they prey on your very health.

    The Profit Motive is the most vile creation of the modern world. It had its place in our history, but it is antiquated and no longer applicable to our species. The private ownership of the planet must end because there is not enough planet available for everyone to own a piece of it.

    http://www.thevenusproject.com and http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com … We need to step into the future if we want to end the abuse of our fellow man (and ourselves).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QMPOO3PZFN7XV2XZKCGSXXR3WM Joe Somebody

    And in New Zealand, they can not advertise any drugs that are covered by their Medical system.

  • mick

    “There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.” — Aldous Huxley, Tavistock Group, California Medical School, 1961


  • Anonymous

    21x more americans die from prescription drugs than from all the illegal drugs combined. in fact, shockingly and it should be headline news… as was reported in 2007 by the times, the bigest killer of americans is now iatrogenics, that is, medically-caused. a small part is the malpractice surgeries; then there is the misprescription-overprescription problem increasing; but by far the largest is deaths from the superbugs and staph infections running rampant. 80 hospitals a year are being closed as menaces. stay away from those places… but the bugs are loose… at 730,000 deaths a year by iatrogenics, more than either cancers or hearts… and at rate of increase, bigger than both of those by 2020! run for the hills. western medicine is now lethal!

  • Anonymous

    indeed, was the most prescribed treatment of native peoples, vedic medicine. it works; hence illegal. modern western medicine isn’t at all about healing or wellness… quite the opposite… it is all about sickness and death as growth industries of enormous profits.

  • Anonymous

    ‘schizophrenia’? that’s a term of the field of spychiatry… at its best, fraud… at it’s worst demonic evil. they have given the wrold lobotomy, shock treatment, ‘therapeutic castration’ (alast one performed in carolina in 1979 on a gay balck man…), drano drugs (including methedrine, prozac and the psychoses-inducing ‘anti-psychotics), and let’s not forget it was shrinks who developed CIA’s MK Ultra techniques… how-to make a manchurian assassin or a brainwipe or just plain old gitmo-rendition torture to gain ‘confessions’ after years therein… indeed, in 2007, 72% of the APA voted to continue assisting the US in its nazi torture chambers worldwide… and the director owns the private airline disappearing the most of the victims into torture-towns… spychiatry must be shut down and authentic, gentle therapies developed. it is no wonder there are support groups like ‘surivors of psychiatry’ with large memberships worldwide.

  • Anonymous

    australia, NZ and EU tried fighting off the big pharma ads but the WTO agreements forbade that happening. most folks do not know that IMF-worldbanc-WTO laws supercede the president, congress, courts… who cannot even call those into question as a matter of contract. ‘we, the people’ what a joke… we are nought but peons unless and until we have overthrown all the governments and the powers-that-be above them.

  • Anonymous

    LOL ya think??!! Why are we the only industrialized nation that allows drug companies to market their concoctions directly to the public? Oh that’s right, because we are an oligarchy!

  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

    They now find it cheaper for new Rx to be tested on the general public.

    If bad, just pay damages and withdraw it.