Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
Photo by Christine Sandu / Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago at a bar with some friends watching a sports game - someone mentions that is incredibly annoying to see a prescription medicine advertisement every single time commercials start.

This started a little discussion where someone else notated that only the United States and New Zealand allowed such a thing and for what I presume is the clear reason of money.

So I learned a bit from this back and forth conversation and waited till I got home to research this claim myself.

In a quick Google search I found a peer-reviewed paper that substantiated this claim, so at this point I could not figure out how I felt about this and this is why.

Some part of me believes if you visit a doctor - that doctor is getting paid to stay up to date and know their field. That includes knowing medications and all varieties that may be able to resolve what ever ailment is bringing me towards them.

This is the same way I believe that engineering folks have to continue to research/learn new technologies so that when questions come in from technical clients we can explain why we continue to use x/y/z for something.

If a client comes to us in technology and says - "Look, I found this cool new compiler to make things faster called Turbo LVLQR that I think you should use."

I've got a few options as an engineer, but they come down to either:

  • Explaining why that is not a good option because x/y/z.
  • Taking the option the client said, because the client is always right.

So when we bring this back to medicine. Lets say I go to my doctor because my blood values are all out of wack.

I see some commercial that says "standardize your blood values, ask your doctor about dimeekiofiltrate 3.0". The doctor looks at me and says I don't need that, but I'm convinced from the beautiful commercials that my life would be better if I was on that medicine.

The doctor realizes they are fighting a losing battle and writing a prescription is easy. It might even make them money at the end of the day - so I get a prescription and I'm on my way.

Yeah an exaggerated tale, but it seems like that happened in some form after learning about some "pill mills" via The Pharmacist documentary (Netflix).

So I look at the situation and think - do we really need prescription medicine commercials?

It seems to me the companies paying for these commercials get success from more people taking these medications and getting pays outs from insurance. So yeah it makes sense to advertise as much as you can about new medication to increase profit. However, what about the part of population that is easily swayed or in a poor mental state?

If you watch a commercial about a beautiful beach over and over again with bright colors and realize its advertising an anti-depressant. Maybe you do need that pill as your life is feeling pretty bare and colorless.

This could be a negative thing to start as an anti-depressant may have some side effects that need countering with another pill. Soon you find yourself knee deep in a variety of uppers and downers to balance some chemicals and I think at that point you are just a human funding a company via a chain of pills.

However, this opinion can be dangerous to have since you set up the belief that the doctor holds all the knowledge and knows the correct path each time. I sure hope they do, but every time we hear a story about an individual who knew something was wrong with their body, but doctors insisted on no treatment is one too many.

So lets say we remove all advertising of prescription medication. I'm guessing the usage of those meds will naturally go down and with that goes the profit. Does that mean pharmaceutical companies will no longer fund research for new medications because it won't be profitable? I'm guessing so because as it stands now the United States fosters medical innovation via the huge amount of profit available. If you take that away - the innovation will slow.

Today, Americans have faster access to more medicines than anywhere else in the world and doctors and patients work together to decide which medicine is right for them.

So perhaps we just haven't found the happy medium yet. Since I don't believe Insulin costs rising 600% over the past few decades is anything other than greed.

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