Drug ads may be hazardous to your health care - Diane Wagner

Could you use a little blue pill?

Something like $2.5 billion was spent in 2001 to advertise prescription drugs directly to the public, according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office.

Ask your doctor about Previcid ? or any other medication where the patent is still in effect.

She can check the information on the free coffee mugs, tote bags, mouse pads or T-shirts that company representatives bring to her office by the truckload. Drug companies spent about $9.3 billion on that.

And we wonder why the cost of medicine is skyrocketing these days.

The knee-jerk response is to blame malpractice suits for the growing fiscal crisis in health care coverage. But let's not forget that the situation didn't start to get really hairy until after the Food and Drug Administration decided in 1997 to allow radio and television advertising of drugs.

Direct to consumer advertising n the issue is so hot it's commonly referred to by the acronym DTCA n is banned in Europe, and rightly so.

High-powered advertising campaigns work pretty well. Nebulous promises made in pretty television and print ads have patients insisting their physicians prescribe brand-name medicines, even when they're no better than cheaper drugs and may not be the appropriate treatment.

These commercial promotions remind me of an old joke. It's a little risqu? for a family paper but it's very, very old, so bear with me.

Two little boys went into the corner drugstore, each with a dollar to spend. The first boy bought a batch of comic books and penny candy. The second boy bought a box of feminine hygiene products.

Upon inquiry from his friend, the second boy explained.

"It says here that I can go swimming, ride horseback and play tennis with these things," he said.

I think of that joke every time I see an anti-depressant commercial depicting a happy family at the beach or an antihistamine ad with the actors rolling around in a flowery meadow. Hey, even without allergies, there are bugs and wet spots in that grass.

Several studies show the benefits of actively participating in your own health care.

But that participation should be based on real knowledge, not slogans. And people who are unwilling or unable to do a little of their own research need to stop nagging their doctor, nurse or pharmacist about miracle cures from marketing executives.

The FDA is announcing stricter guidelines on prescription drug advertising and New Zealand, one of the few other countries allowing DTCA, is debating a ban.

But consumers hold the key to putting it all right. Make up your mind to ignore the seemingly omnipresent sales pitches, before they bankrupt our entire medical system.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.