You can't turn on the T.V. during breakfast or dinner without seeing cleverly placed ads for one pharmaceutical or another. They're the ones showing someone living their life to the fullest thanks to whatever drug it was they took. And at the end there's a bunch of legal C.Y.A. jargon from the drug companies stating things like death or constipation could occur (but probably won't) when taking their product.
Some of these commercials might make viewers wonder where all these diseases we've never heard of are coming from, or if they themselves have it without knowing. Some see the ads as a public service announcement that may help people feel more comfortable speaking to their doctors about things like depression or irritable bowel syndrome.
Where things get hazy is when drug companies are "raising awareness" for diseases they themselves sell a solution for. The Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn asked senior scientist Dominick Frosch from Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute about drug companies' practices and whether they're ethical. Frosch commented, "The ad promotes a very clear story as to what causes insomnia ... and that somehow insomnia is a problem of your neurotransmitter. They are giving you a very one-sided explanation of what causes insomnia, and of course into that cause fits this particular drug."
David Grande, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has written about drug advertising at great length. He told Huffington Post, "We all want consumers ... to be highly engaged in their health care, and certain advertisements can do that. But it can also lead to a lot of overtreatment." He added, "It's not as if we live in an imaginary world where messages in advertising are being driven by what's important, rather than what makes more money." The Huffington Post points out studies that have shown more than half the claims made by drug advertisers are misleading and 10% are blatantly false.
The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise drugs on television. The FDA is hard at work on developing a better system.
Read more about the Huffington Post's exposé about drug companies and their ads on television here.