“Drugs You Don’t Need For Disorders You Don’t Have”

“when Schwartz saw the Belsomra ad, she was struck by how smoothly it sidestepped the drug’s limitations. A soothing voiceover hypes the science, giving a sophisticated explanation of how Belsomra targets a neurotransmitter called orexin to turn down the brain’s “wake messages.” “Only Belsomra works this way,” the voice continues. The ad ends with the young woman curling up with the “sleep” animal and falling into a peaceful slumber. “You have no idea watching that ad that we’re talking about falling asleep 6 minutes faster and staying that way an extra 16 minutes — and that’s at higher doses,” Schwartz said. “We really don’t have a great idea of how well it works at the lower dose FDA actually recommends for people starting the medication.”…
One study, from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that 57 percent of claims in drug ads were potentially misleading and another 10 percent were outright false… Concerns about direct advertisements of pharmaceutical products have become so acute that last November the American Medical Association called for an outright ban, saying that the practice was “fueling escalating drug prices.” Spending on prescription drugs already accounts for about one in every six dollars that go into medical care…
Companies like Merck point out that their ads always instruct patients to consult a physician. And it’s true that doctors aren’t supposed to prescribe medication unless they think it makes sense clinically. But as multiple studies have shown, doctors often give patients the particular brand-name drugs they ask for, even when a cheaper generic version is available…
Between 2003 and 2011, the success rate for clinical trials fell, the time from trial to approval rose, and the ratio of approved drugs to trial drugs declined. These are all signs that the drug pipeline is drying up. Innovation could pick up again, but in the meantime, drug companies have been spending much of their time pushing drugs of questionable clinical advantage, or persuading viewers to seek medication for “a disease that may be hard to distinguish from normal behavior in most cases,” according to Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who focuses on the drug industry. In his field, the tactic is known as “disease mongering.” And to critics of consumer drug advertising, Belsomra is a perfect example of these practices at work.”
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