Guest MINDSETTER™ Stan Tran: Direct-to-Consumer Advertising Is Hurting All of Us

Saturday, August 02, 2014

 

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In Rhode Island, spending on healthcare is mandatory, whereas spending in other sectors like education and infrastructure is discretionary. Advertising and lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry drive up healthcare costs, and each year we’re forced to spend more money to subsidize the pharmaceutical industry, leaving less to improve schools and pave roads. This crony capitalism undermines real competition and hurts all of us.

You can’t turn on the TV without seeing ads. A typical ad begins with, “Do you have a lack of energy? Are you sad or grumpy? Are you falling asleep at dinner? Then ask your doctor about low T!”

This symptom list virtually guarantees that every middle-aged man will diagnose himself with low testosterone levels when in fact “low T” is a fictitious condition. Testosterone levels drop at a rate of about 1% per year, so levels in middle-aged men are “low” compared to laboratory norms based on younger males. There is no scientific consensus on what constitutes “low T.”

Before pharmaceutical ads dominated our media, a typical family doctor might have been asked about taking testosterone replacements a few times a year. Now, with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to inundate the airwaves, the industry promotes “low T” drugs, like AndroGel, as lifestyle drugs promising to fight the process of aging by making men faster and stronger. It is a physician’s job to educate and inform his/her patients, but the average American spend 16 hours per year watching drug ads, which far exceeds the amount of time spent with a doctor. Many doctors will sign off when patients request specific prescriptions because there isn’t time to correct these misconceptions in a 15-minute office visit.

Medical decisions should be made between doctors and patients. The pharmaceutical industry is intentionally interfering with this relationship through their lobbying because they have large profits at stake. Using testosterone gel has serious side effects, like significantly increasing risks of cancer and stroke, but these risks are not well advertised. Nearly every country besides the U.S. has outlawed direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical products.

Advertising also drives up costs. For example, a 30-day supply of AndroGel sells for $384 in the United States, but only $138 in Canada. Patients are forbidden from buying medications from Canadian pharmacies. Due to the pharmaceutical industry’s legal monopoly in our country, American drug prices are regularly two to three times higher than Canadian prices.

Patients aren’t the ones bearing this cost - we are all. AndroGel is covered by Medicare, and Medicare is funded by tax dollars. This means that billions of taxpayer dollars each year essentially fund this advertising for pharmaceutical companies.

We can stop this madness by breaking the monopoly. As soon as Congress passes legislation that allows international commerce of pharmaceuticals, prices in the United States will drop overnight. With more competition, companies will rethink the decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to market fictitious conditions.

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Stan Tran ([email protected]) of Providence is in his final year as a medical student at Brown University. He is also a Republican candidate for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. Visit www.stantran.us to learn more about his candidacy.

 
 

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