Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's call this one: "A drug worthy of Halloween."

Or, "Nursing mothers may notice that their baby has turned into an alpaca."

By now you've probably seen the ad for Abilify, that new-ish pill that targets bipolar disorder. Just to jog your memory, it starts with—symbolism alert!—a melancholy-looking woman finding her way slowly through, and out of, the woods. Amid New Age-y music, the narration tells you that the drug, developed by Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical and marketed in the U.S. by Bristol-Myers Squibb, will help you lead a calmer, more level life.

And then...the disclaimers.

Now, it's true that disclaimers on TV drug ads historically tend to be chilling to the point of near-silliness. To some degree this is endemic to the medium. TV isn't like print, where major pharmaceuticals will launch a hot new drug with a glossy four-page magazine spread that encompasses hundreds if not thousands of words in addition to the (required) disclaimer page(s). On TV, drug makers have, at most, 60 seconds to complete their pitch. And because the law requires them to include the most dire and/or common adverse effects, they're placed in the Kafkaesque position of paying a lot of money to produce a commercial that sounds almost like a PSA for why you shouldn't even think of trying this drug. Often this condensed recitation of dire consequences ends up making such ads sound like something you'd expect from an SNL parody. (One also remembers humorist Dave Barry's famous riff on the subject, where he goes through this laundry list of progressively more outlandish adverse effects, ending with, "Pregnant women should not even be watching this commercial....")

In this case, however....

Well, not to vilify Abilify, but consider that the TV spot warns, in turn, of:

—Fever spikes

—Stiff muscles

—Uncontrollable movements that may "become permanent"

—Inability to swallow

—Soaring blood sugar

—Coma

—Sudden death by stroke...

And, mind you, the foregoing isn't even a complete listing of the risks. In fact, by my count, death is mentioned as a possible "adverse effect" at least three times. I'd say that's pretty adverse.

No thanks, Bristol-Myers. I'll stick with the mood swings, if it's all the same to you.

Of course, this raises legitimate questions about whether the rampant "disease-ification" of America, increasingly visible in the phalanx of mental-health ads aimed at consumers, is encouraging basically normal people to seek medical treatment they don't need, thereby exposing themselves unnecessarily to all sorts of serious side effects. (If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you already know that that's one of my chief complaints against the self-help movement.) We'll be examining that topic more fully, soon.

14 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

Good post, Steve. And let us not forget that ad for Mirapex, a drug for the alarming new epidemic of Restless Leg Syndrome:

“Tell your doctor … if you experience increased gambling, sexual or other intense urges.”

I am having a restless-leg syndrome of my own; I have this overwhelming urge to kick all of the pharmaceutical marketing giants in their big butts.

Steve Salerno said...

At least if you take a Mirapex along with the Abilify, you can get in your share of gambling and sex before the coma strikes...and your legs will feel perfectly fine throughout.

a/good/lysstener said...

That's a good one Connie. And it's true that if you watch these ads pretty soon you conclude you need a drug for everything. Wasn't there that whole controversy about whether there really is attention deficit or whether it's a huge marketing ploy for the drug industry?

BTW I'm tempted to make a comment about the fourth side effect listed but that's gotten me in trouble before and I don't want to start again!

gregory said...

another good topic, you keep coming up with them...

a counter-argument to the idea that the self-help movement is responsible for the disease-ification of america could be made when considering that nowhere in the entire medical system is there any accountability, (except perhaps in liablity lawsuits or hospital profits)...

by this i mean the idea that "insurance will pay for it" could be said to have created a system where there is no regard for costs or unnecessary tests or visits....

hasn't self-help been about accountability and taking resposibility for one's circumstances?

Steve Salerno said...

Well, some of self-help purports to be about individual responsibility--though I vehemently dispute the efficacy of that campaign, and in fact I have major questions about whether even the endeavor is sincere. (If you want to hear more, I can suggest a good book. It's called SHAM. By this Salerno character.) And let's not forget, there's another whole wing of self-help, the Victimization end, which is (quite overtly) about anything but taking responsibility-- and it's still quite active in the culture, even if Secret-style Empowerment is very much the flavor of the day.

But your point about traditional medicine is well-taken. I see the attitude, e.g., in my aging mother-in-law, who lives with us these days, and couldn't possibly be more cavalier about the expenses she incurs in her various health-related exploits, not a few of which seem rather frivolous/excessive to me. "Oh, it's all paid-for," she likes to say cheerily. To which I'm always tempted to respond, "Yeah, and who do you think is paying for it?" But I never say anything. After all, we have to live harmoniously under the same roof. (The bargains we make with the devil, eh?)

Anonymous said...

In some cases, the risks of not taking the Abilify (i.e. suicide, physical self-harm) may far outweigh the potential statistical problems like death from stroke.

I'm just saying...for the average person, it's a crappy idea. Unfortunately, that's who they're marketing to with these silly ads.

gregory said...

i was surprised, when in america last month, to find flu shots available in several grocery stores (for 30 bucks), offered as a public service by the store management...

i couldn't understand it, (except as a distribution tool for "big pharma") and wondered why anyone would get one

it turns out that fear of flu is a widespread "rational" response to the change of season, and there are advertising campaigns touting this as real and good

and fear as a political campaign tool, as a governing tool, is beginning to be looked at in the iraq, homeland security, and election scenarios...

my question is, do you see any relationship between america's seeming gullibility in so many areas, and the self-help movement? at all?

i think this fear that has become more obvious since 9/11 has another cause, and the self-help thing is just another symptom.....

Ky Person said...

My father is 86 and takes one prescription medication. My mother is 85 and takes two. They both complain about all the commercials for medicine, and think those commercials drive the hypochondriacs to the doctor's office to demand them.

Anonymous said...

Steve, when I was a young man too many years ago, boys who ran around in school were just being boys. Now they're all hyperactive and are expected to sit like good little girls, orelse they medicate them. Today like you say everything is a disease or a condition. Remember that guy who killed all those people on the LIRR and pled innocent by Black Rage Syndrome or whatever he called it? I wonder when the pill comes for that.
-Carl

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Carl, his name was Colin Ferguson and his story appears on page 32 of this book I highly recommend; it's called SHAM.
;)

Why, I even know the guy who wrote it.

RevRon's Rants said...

KNOW HIM? I heard the rumor that your wife is sleeping with the guy. wait 'till the Enquirer hears about it. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Don't believe all the rumors you hear, Rev. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the inspiration.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I don't think that's sarcasm, so I'll interpret it through a lens of sincerity: You're welcome!