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Selling Sickness: How Drug Ads Changed Health Care

A fantastic story by NPR about the rise in prescription drug use and its relationship to advertising:

Selling Sickness: How Drug Ads Changed Health Care

Prescription drug spending is the third most expensive cost in our health care system. And spending seems to grow larger every year. Just last year, the average American got 12 prescriptions a year, as compared to 1992, when Americans got an average of seven prescriptions. In a decade and a half, the use of prescription medication went up 58 percent. This has added about $180 billion to our medical spending.

While there are more medicines on the market today than in 1992, researchers estimate that around 20 percent of the $180 billion increase has absolutely nothing to do with the number of medications available, or increases in the cost of that medication.

Why the increase in spending? Advertising! But why the spike in advertising during the 90's?

In the early 1980s, FDA regulations required that drug ads include both the name of a drug and its purpose, as well as information about all the side effects. But side-effect information often took two or three magazine pages of mouse print to catalog, and this wouldn't do for a major television campaign.

Flash forward to today...

Today, drug companies spend $4 billion a year on ads to consumers. In 1997, the FDA rules governing pharmaceutical advertising changed, and now companies can name both the drug and what it's for, while only naming the most significant potential side effects. Then, the number of ads really exploded. The Nielsen Company estimates that there's an average of 80 drug ads every hour of every day on American television. And those ads clearly produce results:

Quite fascinating. Read (or listen to) the full article here.