As appeared in The Natural Healer, Winter 2003
Today’s pharmaceutical industry spends two billion dollars US on the marketing of drugs directly to patients in the United States alone. How much is spent in Canada is hard to say. The advertisements are high on emotional appeal and short on evidence of effectiveness.
Should this industry be allowed to market these drugs to the public? Is this mass marketing of drugs to the general consumer a moral act, an immoral act, or simply an amoral act? Amoral refers to being without morals, while immoral implies malicious intent. Like so many things in our society today, the pharmaceutical industry will try to promote the sale of drugs as a moral act with good intention. People are conditioned by the media to ask their doctor about Prozac, Ritalin, and the “purple pill”. And now children can take their cough medication in the form of a good tasting freezie. In effect, the pharmaceutical industry creates a need in the consumer rather than responding to a need in the individual.
For example, we have Hollywood, which is amoral, saying movies do not precipitate violent acts in viewers. We also have immoral corporations such as Enron and Worldcom who defrauded investors of billions of dollars in investment capital.
Another corporation that I consider questionable is Zeneca Pharmaceuticals. Zeneca established “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in 1997. According to Science News, The World Health Organization formally designated TamoxifenTM, which is made by Zeneca, as a carcinogen. However, Zeneca, along with the US National Cancer Institute, lobbied to keep legislators from adding TamoxifenTM to its list of carcinogens. TamoxifenTM is used in the treatment of estrogen positive breast cancers. Yet Zeneca also manufactures herbicides and pesticides that mimic estrogen. So who would know more about estrogen’s effects in the body than the company that makes estrogen mimickers? That same company is a mass marketing machine. It creates both the possible cause and the questionable cure. It is a known fact that estrogen and estrogen mimickers cause breast cancer. TamoxifenTM is an estrogen blocker, yet it is also a carcinogen. Who is betterqualified to sponsor “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month” than Zeneca? Is this moral, amoral or immoral? You decide. It bears questioning where your charitable donations are going.
To further consider the moral underpinnings of the pharmaceutical industry, last year they spent $9,000,000,000 US on direct marketing to doctors in the US alone. This included all-expenses-paid family trips to the Caribbean for the doctor to “get educated” on the benefits of a pharmaceutical drug. These are currently untaxed benefits. Yet if you or I were to accept this ‘bribe’ we would face possible criminal prosecution. Medical doctors however are exempt from this penalty. Is this ethical? Have you ever wondered why your prescription costs so much? Its not the research and development; it is the marketing that you are paying for.
Marketing is simply defined as creating a market. Marketers need to create demands, wants, desires, and needs. This is why I called Zeneca a marketing machine. They create both a desire and a need for a particular drug for the consumer. Unfortunately, the consumer is not usually educated in the hazards associated with pharmaceutical drugs. That is why a medical doctor needs to prescribe them. I recently read that Eli Lilly & Co., a pharmaceutical giant and maker of Prozac, mailed out free boxes of “once a week” Prozac in South Florida to a patient who was getting her prescriptions filled at Walgreens Pharmacy. Fortunately, the patient is taking legal action. In this situation, the pharmaceutical company dispensed the drug by using direct marketing thus bypassing the doctor’s ability to protect the patient from potential harm.
You may be aware that we are in a health care crisis in Canada. According to the Ontario Medical Association’s President, Albert Schumacher, “one in four medical doctors will retire in the next four years” (March 2001). The same president went on to warn that if something is not done immediately, “the current physician shortage could result in a virtual breakdown of the health care system by 2020”. If the number of doctors is decreasing, then how can an amoral pharmaceutical industry maintain outrageous profits? One avenue is through direct marketing to consumers. If an overworked medical doctor receives a request from a patient for a particular drug, the overtaxed doctor may be inclined to write a quick prescription without adequately considering the patient’s complete health care needs.
Meanwhile, by writing that prescription, our health care system has been unnecessarily burdened by a request for a visit to the medical doctor and the cost of a prescription that may be covered by Health Canada.
Some pharmacies keep track of a doctor’s prescription habits and may sell this information to the pharmaceutical industry. This information shows if the doctor is adequately addressing the profit agenda of the pharmaceutical industry. If so, the medical doctor may be rewarded with a non-taxable benefit, possibly in the form of an “educational” family trip paid for by your hard earned tax dollars to support our under-funded health care system.
So, the next time you see one of those pharmaceutical drug commercials, keep in mind how much money it is actually costing both you and our under-funded health care system, not to mention the influence it may have on the ill-informed masses that flock to their doctors for the latest drug cure.