Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is there anything that the pharmaceutical giants WON'T do to sell their product?

I feel very disturbed right now.

We've all heard all those drug ads on television:

Why continue to suffer with painful and debilitating hemorrhoids? Live a hemorrhoid-free life with new Putridex, from Glutton Pharmaceuticals.

Be advised that not everyone should take Putridex. Women who are pregnant or nursing or may become pregnant should not take Putridex. Neither should anyone under 30 or older than 35. Side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, dizziness, dandruff, rabies, scabies, bari-bari, scurvy, hair loss, gangrene, gout, hiccups, sexual dysfunction, loss of appetite, gallstones, kidneystones, blindness, insanity and an uncontrollable desire to play golf with Jack Abramoff.' So next time you visit your doctor be sure to ask about Putridex. Ask for it by name.

You know the gig. But if you are reading this you are also probably an adult. You know that what is advertised on television should always be taken with a grain of salt. You know that all these medical advertisements are out there not necessarily to educate you, but because pharmaceutical companies have figured out that one way to get customers to buy their products is through direct marketing in which the customer, based mainly on the information in the ad, decides on their own course of treatment and gets their physician to write a prescription for that particular product instead of a competing or generic drug that may do the same thing.

But this is what bothered me-- my 12 year old came to me a few minutes ago, scared to death of getting meningitis, having just heard it will kill rapidly and asking if she could be vaccinated with a product called menactra (I had to look it up.) And do you know where she saw the commercial? ON NICKELODEON! She and her sister it turns out were watching Spongebob Squarepants and that was the commercial that came up.

Now, I have no problem with protecting my kids against deadly diseases (meningitis certainly included.) Two years ago I made a point of going to their doctor and insisting that both of my daughters get the HPV vaccinations that may someday prevent them from getting cervical cancer.

However I have a real problem with a pharmaceutical company (in this case an outfit called Sanofi Pasteur) pushing drugs-- any kind of drugs on kids, and in particular by scaring them about getting a deadly disease. While I don't discount the information in the ad or the need to protect kids (and I certainly intend to have them vaccinated against meningitis sometime before they go to college) I really feel that scaring kids into asking their parents for a shot is unethical.

Of course lots of companies advertise their wares to children. I've become used to telling my kids 'no' by now when they come and ask me for the New Nuclear Barbie (decontamination suit that glows in the dark). That's to be expected, I suppose. But pushing vaccines and drugs is over the line, and I hope I'm not the only one who thinks that way. I might add as a parent this gives me a dilemma. Do I tell my daughter she can't have the vaccine (meaning that she now thinks I'm willing to risk her death to save a few bucks) or do I get it (meaning they've now succeeded in writing my household budget for me by manipulating my twelve year old.)

I intend to contact NICKELODEON once their offices open tomorrow and let them know how I feel. If they are going to show kids programming they should categorically reject any ads from pharmaceutical companies (I'm sure there is precedent for this-- can you imagine for example watching Spongebob and seeing an ad for, say, Budweiser?)

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