Author: Justin Mckibben
Overprescribing of powerful prescription medications is just one part of how the current American opioid crisis came to be. While incredibly dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl came pouring in from across the globe, the pharmaceutical industry right in our own backyard thrived off of the devastation it was helping create. And as more people became aware of how prescription drugs were contributing to one of the worst drug epidemics in the country’s history, Big Pharma has come under fire for a number of things over the years. To name a few, we’ve seen arguments against drug companies for:
With recent reports, such as the explosive piece of 60 Minutes last month, we have also been exposed to the corruption, greed and a disregard for the well-being of the consumer.
The Big Pharma propaganda machine has paid out countless dollars for criminal and civil settlements over the years. Now even state officials are resorting to lawsuits against drug manufacturers in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis.
So how did all this happen? How deep does the Big Pharma propaganda go? Some of this you might already know, but some of it might actually surprise you.
In case you didn’t know, the pharmaceuticals and health products industry spends the most money on lobbying politicians. And not even by a little.
Big Pharma and Health Products spent $3,714,580,815
That means that Big Pharma spends:
- $1,134,783,913 more than 2nd place- Insurance Companies
- $1,717,237,691 more than Oil/Gas Companies
The pharmaceutical industry, including dealers of medical products and nutritional/dietary supplements, is consistently a top contributor more to federal campaigns than any other industry.
In essence, drug companies spend big money on politics.
Whether we can always see it or not, this kind of financial incentive is more than likely playing into our current work on policy. For example, moves to pass legislation earlier this year were called into question by one source who pointed out 13 senators who were trying to push through a bill that would benefit the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from these companies between 2010 and 2016, including:
- Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch led the way with more than $471,000
- Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell with over $433,00 in donations
FUN FACT- Many lobbyists working on behalf of Big Pharma companies have previously held government jobs.
Truthfully, drug companies spend several years before a drug even makes it to the market on planning a strategy for selling it to you. Part of that strategy is proving drugs have value for treatment. However, according to some industry insiders, a lot of the time there is not enough comprehensive data to prove that value.
What you might also find surprising is that some of the earliest information drug companies have published about their products aren’t actually from credible sources. Ad agencies will hire writers to produce articles on behalf of the drug maker highlighting benefits of a drug. But the data is often cherry-picked and incomplete.
These articles are then sold to the public as ‘scientific’ because they are printed and published by some of the biggest scientific and medical publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Those articles are then picked up by television and other news sources.
So essentially, drug companies often team up with marketing companies to fool not just doctors, but the public into thinking their product provides something that has yet to be proven. Big Pharma propaganda corrupts the research into their drugs and makes people believe their products are safer and more effective than they are.
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Big Pharma’s Billions in Ads
It isn’t just behind the scenes that Big Pharma propaganda takes place. Drug makers spend around $21 billion a year just to pedal products through advertising. One big problem for Americans is that many of their promotional techniques have been called out for being false advertising or misleading, to say the least.
- 2015, the industry spent a record-breaking $5.4 billion of direct-to-consumer ads alone.
- The same year, Americans spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs.
Some sources indicate there are about 80 drug advertisements per hour. While drug companies want people to think it is raising awareness, it is most definitely a commercial to sell you something.
Many pharma companies even have deep financial ties to medical communication companies (MCC) like WebMD or Medscape. This is just one more way they can influence physicians and consumers without people realizing the drug makers are funding the information.
Doctors Recruiting Doctors
But the drug makers don’t stop with recruiting politicians to support them. They also utilize doctors to help them push their products. The main target audience in most of the campaigns pushed by Big Pharma propaganda is not necessarily the consumer as much as it is the person who writes the prescriptions.
Drug companies giving kickbacks to doctors is nothing new.
So drugmakers create an advisory board, where some of the most successful and well-respected doctors are put on the payroll with huge payoffs to help drug companies design a marketing campaign that will help promote the drugs to other doctors. Once these doctors have helped highlight the best ways to convince other physicians these drugs work, they themselves validate the drug in a way that encourages other doctors to prescribe the drug.
Drugs to Treat Drugs
A while back there was an ad that ran during the Superbowl that caught the attention of a lot of people. It was an ad selling an anti-constipation drug for those so dependent on prescription opioids that they were suffering from constipation as a side effect.
This is another huge problem with how drugs are marketed to us… in tandem.
Instead of suggesting an alternative treatment, drug companies want to give you more drugs to combat the effects of other drugs. Doctors will often prescribe a second medication for no other purpose than to treat the effects of the first medication. Big Pharma propaganda can literally sell you the illness and the medicine in the same marketing campaign. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine describes this as “prescribing cascade”.The study indicates that the practice of using drugs to treat problems with other drugs is a key component to the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals in healthcare.
Another devastating way this has taken place is when doctors prescribe powerfully and potentially habit-forming narcotic medications to combat illicit drug use and substance use disorder. Heroin addicts are being treated with other strong narcotics, which can actually have their own withdrawal symptoms and side effects. They even highjacked the opioid overdose antidote and several makers gouged the prices to offensive new heights during the rise of the opioid epidemic.
Drug Companies Abuse of Americans
Now let us be fair; modern medicine does provide us with some life-saving resources that can be paramount to the health and wellness of our population. Thanks to great strides in medicine doctors are able to treat some conditions or illnesses that were once thought of as a death sentence. Today, we have some of the greatest opportunities to receive quality care with innovative and well-researched treatments.
However, the fact remains that drug companies have been caught red-handed more than a few times misrepresenting their products, hiding the side-effects, falsely advertising their benefits and even recently some huge names in pharmaceuticals have been accused of bribery and racketeering to sell potent and extremely dangerous drugs.
So, what can be done?
- We can take a closer look at how Big Pharma propaganda influences or elected representatives and their decisions on policy.
- We can pay attention to how the information provided by pharmaceutical companies or marketers is not always as reliable as it may seem.
- Look into excessive advertising for potent drugs
- Do more to combat drug makers from paying doctors to promote their drugs to other doctors.
- Pursue other forms of treatment that don’t require expensive and powerful drugs.
When it comes to drug abuse, maybe we shouldn’t let the drug companies continue to make massive profits from a problem they have a large hand in creating. There needs to be more commitment to finding alternative treatments that don’t rely so heavily on drugs in order to help people get healthy.
Holistic drug addiction treatment is a unique and effective way of helping people struggling with substance use disorder. The fact that powerful drugs help cause addiction, let us not forget the value of offering healing options that don’t require more drugs. Building a strong foundation with personalized therapy and innovative treatment opportunities helps thousands of people all over the nation overcome addiction. Palm Partners Recovery Center is committed to providing quality care for those dealing with drug abuse, whether it is illicit drugs or prescription drug dependence. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
Every year as Super Bowl Sunday strikes the public is privy to a brand new batch of clever and powerful commercials. Some of us don’t even bother to watch the game, but we make sure to check in for those ads that are often unique and creative ways to grab their audience. This year the 2017 Super Bowl LI commercials ranged from political and controversial, to hysterical or inspirational. The depictions accompanying the game seem to have made varied impressions, but one topic stood out in a different way than others of its kind.
The Super Bowl LI commercials included PSAs that set out to target and tackle the details of drug overdose with teens. Two heart-breaking ads were presented by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA) in which the narrative concentrated on the likelihood of overdoses with teenagers; specifically prescription drugs.
NCADA is a St. Louis-based charity which aims to prevent substance abuse and overdose. They do so by offering drug education programs in schools and working to increase awareness of addiction.
Super Bowl LI Commercials: “Safe”
The first PSA was entitled “Safe.” It begins with a father talking about his belief in the second amendment right to bear arms. He tells us about his family’s history with guns and respect for gun safety. They show images of a family hunting together, and a happy daughter with a rifle her father bought her. He emphasizes the fact the family always locks their guns in the safe.
Then, in a tragic turn, he tells the viewer about the overdose death of his 17 year old daughter. He shows the empty pill bottle and says the fire department found it in his daughters hand, followed in an incredibly heart-wrenching way saying-
“I didn’t lock it up.”
The closing credits to the ad include the hard statistic:
Teenagers are more likely to die from overdose than gun fire.
Lock up your prescription medication. Dispose of unused medication properly.
This gripping story only took one minute of halftime Super Bowl LI commercials, but it was a meaningful minute.
Super Bowl LI Commercials: “Smart Phone”
The second PSA of the Super Bowl LI commercials was titled “Smart Phone” and depicted a mother who describes her strict demands for her daughter not to text or use her smart phone and drive. The mother begins with telling about how her daughter was so excited for the phone, and how excited the young woman was to get a license.
The mother insists she was clear about the phone being locked in the glove box while driving, but she trails of into a tear-jerking moment where she asks,
“How could I be so stupid? I put the one thing in her hand that she couldn’t control- painkillers.”
The distraught mother holds up the empty pill bottle to the camera. Throughout the narrative, we are given glimpses of a young girl with her friends. Then the woman portraying the mother delivers a line that makes this message devastating.
“There is nothing in the world that will take this pain away. Ever.”
The commercial closes with the statistic stating:
Teenagers are more likely to die from overdose than texting and driving.
Lock up your prescription medication. Dispose of unused medication properly.
Both of these quick stories are so painfully portrayed by the actors that you can’t help but feel a strong emotional response to the faces and voices in the videos. The fact these ads made their message unexpected at first only adds to the impact.
Getting the Message Across
With these Super Bowl LI commercials the tactic of the twist ending is powerful. Schupp Consulting directed the PSAs and Mark Schupp shared this idea saying,
“There’s a spin to these that I think is very effective,”…”And when we showed them to a (preview) group, they were stunned.”
You may remember that last year NCADA aired another dramatic and compelling Super Bowl commercial called “All America Girl” that told of a young cheerleader turned heroin addict.
The year prior the 2015 PSA featured a mother finding her son overdosed on heroin. Consistently the organization has worked to get a very real, very personal message across.
Yet, some reports show that Schupp thinks this year’s Super Bowl LI commercials are the most powerful. Some might say “powerful” is an understatement. These ads have so much feeling it is hard for many to imagine the reality of them; that these stories come true all over the nation.
The Super Bowl LI commercials reminded us of a lot of things this year. They spoke to us about more than products; they spoke to us about who we are as a nation and where we are in terms of dealing with the adversities we face. Prescription drug abuse and the stigma surrounding addiction is one of the hurdles we know we face, and one that we need to work together to overcome. Recovery is full of champions. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
I’m no stranger to writing about the way I take offense to how the pharmaceutical industry has conducted themselves in various aspects concerning the opiate epidemic in America. Firstly, by taking offense to the fact that these companies were actively raising the prices on the overdose antidote medication Naloxone steadily as the opiate epidemic worsened… but now this next piece feels like something straight out of a dystopian Aldous Huxley future where we are pacified with ads that say,
“Pill 1 causing you problems? We promise pill 2 will make it all better. #BraveNewWorld”
For a lot of people there has been a troubling message to be found behind the guise of an ad for a new constipation medication for treating OIC or Opioid Induced Constipation. 111 million viewers specifically who were watching the Super Bowl this year saw it, which sparked a wave of back-lash and outrage.
Of course it has been quite some time since the Super Bowl, so why bring it up?
Well I keep watching TV, surprisingly, and there are other commercials just like this one with Big Pharma pushing pills that a lot of politicians and medical leaders are also seeing as a way the bullies in Big Pharma are trying to further capitalize on the opiate epidemic that has been crippling communities all over the country. It all has me thinking, shouldn’t we be talking about whats wrong with this picture?
Normalizing the Poison
It has been said the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist- and it would seem this is the same mindset these Big Pharma companies are adopting to make more money off of the sick and suffering. Instead of aspiring to create healthier alternatives, companies are opting to pretend the real problem with long-term dependence on opiates doesn’t exist and are creating more drugs that people will come to depend on.
How do you convince people opiates aren’t the problem? You normalize the poison and give them another pill like it’s the answer to everything. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, is one authority on the subject who spoke avidly about the distasteful way these Big Pharma ads are portraying the issue with opiate use, stating:
“It’s very disturbing to see an ad like that. It’s normalizing the chronic use of opioids, which aren’t demonstrated to be safe over the long term.”
But that’s exactly what this commercial would lead you to believe- that long term dependence on opiate pain medication is a typical and healthy course for treating pain. Kolodny went on to say,
“There’s no question that their ads make this very dangerous and questionable medical practice seem normal.”
And what better way to convince a mass amount of people that it is OK to keep leaning on opiates than to air an ad promoting an OIC medication during one of the most watched broadcasts in America?
This kind of as is normalizing the poison to belittle the problem! The commercial might as well say,
“Hey there, we know you won’t stop using opiates- that’s just crazy talk! How about instead, we pump you full of more medications (at prices which will undoubtedly escalate while causing more side effects) that won’t make you any healthier, won’t address the fact that an estimated 28,648 people were killed by opiates in 2014, and actually deepen your dependence by exploiting it!”
Slap that delightful message between a black and white montage, or a cartoonish animation (ya know, just in case the kids are watching and need their fix) and watch profits double! Throw in a disclaimer at the end,
“May enable a debilitating dependence long enough to get you hooked on heroin.”– But maybe that’s taking it too far… maybe.
Because when we are talking about opiates, that list includes:
And yes, the abuse of opiates has gotten so bad that opioid pain meds were prescribed 259 million times in 2012- enough for every man, woman and child to get their own bottle of pills. Sadly, it is now 4 years later and the statistics of abuse and overdose have skyrocketed every year since! Then there are various other medications there are new synthetic opioids which are being added to the market.
Of Madness and Medication
Now to be fair, the ad from the Super Bowl was presented by AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo, and neither Big Pharma company produces opioids so they aren’t getting paid at both ends exactly. Together, these Big Pharma giants sell the drug Movantik as a treatment for OIC.
Now on a personal note, the fact that OIC is even such a common issue it had to be given it’s own name is actually depressing the more I think about it. How many illnesses will Big Pharma try to write off as “normal” to bypass the devastation and sickness caused by their products?
Twitter Starts Talking
Shortly after the ad aired on the Super Bowl, Twitter started talking and people were not happy with the standards this kind of commercial was attempting to set. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough weighed took to Twitter writing:
“Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more on access to treatment.”
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin also had a few choice words for the Big Pharma propaganda, tweeting:
“Promoting drugs during #SuperBowl to help Americans take more opiates in midst of our crisis? Big PHRMA has no shame”
Shumlin’s outrage is obviously understandable considering Vermont has had alarmingly high levels of opioid addiction in recent years. Shumlin was already an advocate speaking out against the epidemic, and he also put out a statement on the Thursday following the Super Bowl demanding that the commercial be yanked from the air and even pointing out the question of how these Big Pharma companies could justify spending $10 million on the 1-minute spot to pedal more drugs to a population already smothering itself in substance abuse.
Big Pharma Company Claims
What should be even more troubling is that since the commercial first aired the campaign’s website has been visited nearly 40,000 times, and the ad has been streamed on YouTube more than 2 million times! So whether you agree with one side of the debate or the other, it is obvious the ad is pulling people in.
But the companies AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo made claims in their official statement that the ad was aired to raise awareness, stating:
“The objective of the advertisement was to reach people with chronic pain taking a prescribed opioid treatment for long-term pain management and to encourage those who may be suffering from OIC to discuss their symptoms with their physician,”
Really? That’s why you paid $10 million to air an ad? Nothing to do with the astounding response of continued views the commercial has gotten and the dollar amount of business it has probably bought you… no of course not!
Maybe AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo aren’t responsible for the opiate abuse epidemic, but ALL of the Big Pharma companies should be held accountable for the way they are marketing to the public in the midst of a public health crisis.
One thing is for sure, whether they intended to or not their commercial has drawn awareness to the conversation in more ways than one. I have personally spoken with several people both working in the addiction recovery field and in actual recovery themselves who are just blown away by how blatantly Big Pharma can sell ridiculous amounts of dangerous prescription narcotics and make billions, then turn around and pitch sales for the side-effects of these drugs.
There is real help out there; real solutions beyond being medicated to overcome medications. Beyond relying on substances to help treat other substances there is long-term addiction recovery in a holistic healing approach like the effective addiction treatment program at Palm Partners. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135