Column By John Young
“If I had one wish this holiday season,” mused Steve Martin many Christmases ago, “it would be that all the children join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.”
So appropriate. So needed in discordant times.
If granted another wish, he added, it would be “$30 million a month to be given to me, tax-free, in a Swiss bank account.”
I share these holiday sentiments.
But please add one wish from me: that executives behind all the drug commercials on TV be chased round and round until stirred to whipped butter.
With all the talk about drug prices, a chief contributor stares at us just beyond our reading glasses: ridiculous, costly, pointless TV spots.
A 2021 study by the advocacy group America’s Health Insurance Plans found that in seven of 10 Big Pharma companies, marketing and sales costs exceeded spending on research and development.
The latter, lecture the drug goliaths, is why the only valid reaction to criminally high prices is silent compliance.
The concept behind drug commercials is that doctors by and large haven’t heard about any of these products and we must inform them of what we know.
The active ingredient of these appeals is, “Ask your doctor.” Sounds constructive. Of course, the doctor-patient pact generally assumes that physicians know pertinent remedies.
A better approach is to ask one’s doctor, “Are you a doctor?” If affirmed, odds are heavy that he or she knows what one learned during the intermission of “Judge Judy.”
The key message of these ads is that doctors are pretty much out of the loop depending on their cable packages. Why, American Medical Association, do you suffer this slander?
Considering the prices of the products, all Americans should be up in arms over the unspeakable costs associated with flooding the airwaves as drug makers do.
Often the ad campaigns target an infinitesimally small number of viewers, like those with bulging eyes from thyroid eye disease. For that, ask your doctor about Tepezza.
Does anyone out there know anyone with this condition? The only reason we know it even exists is a sweet, bulging-eyed woman unloading her plight on America’s televisions.
Driving up the cost of these ads, aside from saturation placement, is production. If you have “moderate to severe plaque psoriasis” you are the target of the bouncy jingle for Skyrisi: “Nothing is everything. Oh-oh-oh-oh.” If not a target consumer, however, and if you have a slow “mute” hand, the tune has bounced in your brain.
And the costs just keep climbing.
But jingles and panoramic scenes and narrative themes are not all that drive up drug costs for completely unnecessary marketing.
Driving up air time is the listing of all the bad things a drug can do to you – driven in part by federal requirements and in part by liability concerns.
This absurdity is one reason why these ads are so ridiculous and wrong.
The Supreme Court in 1977 crowbarred open this Pandora’s Box with a ruling overturning restrictions on direct advertising for prescription drugs.
This was not long after another court ruling blocked bar associations from barring attorneys from advertising their services.
Granted, take away these strains of televised blurbery, and the medium as we know it might cease to exist. But it’s worth the risk.
So that’s my wish this holiday season.
If I were president, my first act would be to ban these ads. If a judge said that violated the First Amendment, I’d push to amend that amendment to read, “Congress shall make no law” curbing free speech “except for drug makers and attorneys, who shall stick a sock in it.”
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.