Wednesday 12 July 2017

Marla Ahlgrimm on the Rise of Drug Advertisements in America

Marla Ahlgrimm
Turn on your TV and chances are you’ll see a flashy ad for everything from foot fungus to fevers and forgetfulness. But, according to retired pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm, it wasn’t always this way.

Before the 1980s, medicine was a one-way street. Doctors evaluated patients, prescribed treatment, and adjusted when necessary. Marla Ahlgrimm recalls that many patients, especially those with multiple prescriptions in hand, had no idea which treated a particular ailment. Drug companies wooed the doctors and patients were left in the dark regarding available treatment options.

Marla Ahlgrimm says this all changed back in 1986 with the first direct-to-consumer televised ad campaign for Seldane, an allergy medicine that did not come with the pesky side effect of drowsiness. Then current FDA regulations required advertisers to include all potential side effects of named drugs. Seldane got around this requirement by not naming the drug directly but simply telling patients their doctors had an option that wouldn’t droop their eyelids. Seldane, which was bringing in about $34 million in annual sales at the time, saw profits soar to $800 million, largely due to the televised campaign.

Soon, pharmacists, Marla Ahlgrimm included, began to notice a shift in consumer behaviors. Drug companies now had a way to get their names in patient’s heads. Healthcare consumers began approaching their doctors for medications to treat symptoms they may not have previously discussed.

Today, pharmaceutical advertising is a $4 billion-per-year industry and, since 1997, commercials are no longer required to list every side effect alongside the medications name, says Marla Ahlgrimm. There are pros and cons associated with these laxer regulations. Doctor-patient relationships have changed, with patients approaching their healthcare providers for specific drugs. Providers often feel pressured to write a prescription to appease their patients. Despite the changes, there are a few things that are certain. Drug companies are making more money than ever and consumers have access to information and, thus, more control over their medical care.


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