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The irony of drug marketing

The late Anthony Bourdain.

Last night I watched a series of programs about Anthony Bourdain on Gusto TV. During one episode in particular he spoke honestly about his entry into the world drug abuse, heroin in particular. He sat with a group of recovering addicts in Greenwood, a small town in Massachusetts plagued with the problems associated with opioid abuse. A local doctor explained how doctors freely prescribed Oxycontin and other pain-killers for everyday problems like sports injuries, getting wisdom teeth removed and back pain because the drug companies assured the doctors the meds were not addictive. When patients can no longer get legal pain-killers, they resort to street drugs and heroin. It’s a problem no longer limited to big city slums. Small towns are now victims of big-city drug abuse problems.

Nearly very commercial aired during this hour-long show was by a major pharmaceutical company promoting an assortment of remedies for real or imagined ailments. ‘Just ask your doctor’, followed by an exhaustive list of qualifiers. If you’ve ever watched television in the United States (not U.S. stations in Canada with substituted Canadian commercials) you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve counted up to 13 drug ads in a commercial break with 15 commercials on American television. Just an observation.


Do you suffer from opioid constipation?

constipationApparently it’s no joke.  In this latest twist in the commercialization of drug use, I actually saw an advertisement on TV that recommended a prescription solution to an apparent prescription problem. “If you suffer from constipation as a result of opioid use, talk to your doctor about . . . xyz.” I first learned of this problem when I read Papa John, an autobiography by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas many years ago (which is an interesting read, by the way). He educated me to the fact heavy drug users suffer from severe constipation and intestinal gas. Lovely.

I know there are opioid users who are not drug abusers and are in fact genuine pain sufferers who need prescription painkillers. Obviously, many drugs are good and life-saving but that’s not what I’m talking about here. How would we ever survive without the drug industry to monitor our ailments and develop a pill to eliminate them. American television advertising is sustained and supported by Big Pharma. I’ve actually counted up to fifteen commercials during a break in television programming with thirteen of them about drugs, either over-the-counter or prescription.

Whatever your problem, Big Pharma has a solution, or is it just another problem?

Whatever your problem, Big Pharma has a solution, or is it just another problem?

There are pills to put us to sleep, pills to counteract the sleeping pills and wake us up, pills to loosen our bowels, pills to tighten our bowels, pills to dry our allergic eyes and pills to relieve dry eyes. We have pills to improve our eyesight, our hearing and even our brains. Along with commercials about four-hour erections, anal leakage and troublesome psoriasis, it’s obvious the entire population over the age of fifty, including all baby boomers, is plagued with a shocking number of ailments that require immediate and ongoing pharmaceutical intervention. And if we’re not popping enough prescription and over-the-counter meds, the “wellness” industry is relentlessly promoting our dependency on vitamin supplements, protein shakes and nefarious diet regimes that could actually endanger our health. Those futuristic space-age predictions we all watched on our snowy black and white televisions in the fifties and sixties have come to pass. Our meals are now a handful of pills.

Despite the billions of dollars spent each year on developing, marketing and purchasing pills and potions from Big Pharma we still don’t have a cure for the common cold, for diabetes or more tragically, cancer. That’s because there’s no profit in eliminating these diseases. With all those billions being spent by consumers to support the treatment of symptoms, there’s no incentive to treat the cause. So if you’re suffering from constipation caused by opioid use or conversely if you’re a victim of anal leakage, stay tuned. There’ll be a commercial for pharmaceutical help regardless of your real or imagined ailment within the next few minutes on a television or digital feed near you. And that’s no joke.

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