There are only two countries in the world that are allowed to air ads for prescription drugs, namely New Zealand and the good old US of A. This is called direct-to-consumer advertising, or DTC for short.
I'm calling for the British government to allow the same type of ads on British TV screens.
So, have I gone and signed a deal with the Devil, taken a kickback from the Pharmafia?
In the US it is the job of the FDA to regulate direct-to-consumer advertising, any ad that falls short of their rules and regulations is either not aired or taken back to the editing room.
In the UK that job, if ads were aired, would be down to the British drug regulator, the MHRA. Anyone familiar with our toothless drug watchdog will know that they have, time and time again, given antidepressants a clean bill of health where adults are concerned. They normally refer to the Committee on Safety of Medicines [CSM] when asked about the safety of antidepressants in this population. Bizarrely Prozac can be given to children and teens in the UK whereas in the US it's not recommended.
Advertising a prescription drug on television used to be a lucrative tool for the pharmaceutical industry. In the US, for example, Paxil was heavily promoted as the pill to cure shyness. However, this lucrative tool has now become the Achilles heel for the marketing departments of the pharmafia.
Now, they are legally obliged to list the side effects of the particular drugs they are advertising on US TV screens.
Here's an example of a recent ad for Latuda [lurasidone] - a new atypical antipsychotic for the treatment of "bipolar depression" and developed by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma and marketed by Sunovion in the USA.
How would the British public react to this ad if it were aired halfway through Coronation Street or the X-Factor?
Personally, I think it would be a wake-up call to all those British folk who think the pharmaceutical industry are whiter than white.
Did you hear the list of side-effects mentioned in the 90 second ad above?
The first 20 seconds of the ad describes the product and what it is indicated for.
Let's just take a look at what happens after the 20 second mark.
Latuda is not for everyone.
Call your doctor if you have unusual changes in moods, behaviours or thoughts of suicide. Antidepressants can increase these in children, teens and young adults.
Elderly dementia patients taking Latuda have an increased risk of death or stroke.
Call you doctor if you have fever, stiff muscles and confusion as these may be signs of a life-threatening reaction...or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements as these may become permanent.
High blood sugar has been reported with Latuda and medicines like it and in some cases extreme high blood sugar can lead to coma or death.
Other risks include decreases in white blood cells which can be fatal, dizziness upon standing, seizures, increased cholesterol, weight gain, increased prolactin levels, impairment in judgement or trouble swallowing.
Avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice whilst taking Latuda.
Use caution when driving or operating machinery.
The side effects narrated by the softly spoken woman end at 1.15. The final 15 seconds asks the viewer [you, the consumer] to ask your doctor for Latuda and that "bipolar depression" is treatable.
I find it remarkable that the marketing team in this ad have added the following narrative, "Call your doctor if you have unusual changes in moods, behaviours or thoughts of suicide. Antidepressants can increase these in children, teens and young adults."
Latuda is not recommended for children or teens yet they felt the need to throw up the warning. This is because they know that Latuda will more than likely be prescribed off-label to this age group, they know because they will probably promote it in such a way when their reps visit the doctors in their workplaces.
The ad, to me at least, is more about the illness than the product. What they are trying to do here is make "bipolar depression" sound as if it is life-threatening if left untreated, they are trying to convince the consumer that this condition is as bad as a cancerous growth on the lung. This is designed to make you, the consumer, think that the risks stated are worth it.
Bipolar depression is the name given to the depression experienced in those who have bipolar disorder [in other words, they experience depression as well as manic or hypomanic episodes]...at least, that's what we are told.
Now, the reason I believe that we, here in the UK, should allow such ads on our TV screens is simple.
People already on these types of drugs probably haven't read the patient information leaflet that accompanies these drugs, even if they have it's hardly as powerful as the spoken word.
Airing ads like the above on British TV screens would serve a purpose. It would show how dangerous these drugs are. It wouldn't just be bloggers like myself telling you how dangerous they are, it would be the actual pharmaceutical company who manufacture the drug.
Can you imagine if Carlsberg listed that you should call your doctor if you had thoughts of suicide or if drinking their beer could cause an increased risk in strokes for elderly dementia patients?
Imagine if Carlsberg told us...
"Call you doctor if you have fever, stiff muscles and confusion as these may be signs of a life-threatening reaction...or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements as these may become permanent.
"High blood sugar has been reported with Carlsberg and beers like it and in some cases extreme high blood sugar can lead to coma or death."
Would we still be clambering down the aisles at our local supermarket for the 'buy one, get one free' packs of Carlsberg?
Of course not.
So, why do people still ask their doctor for the drugs advertised on US TV?
It's simple, they are told that they have a condition. What they are not told is that the condition came about as a result of heavy marketing and DSM madness. The DSM is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a book that lists mental diseases [labels] - they are as ludicrous as the pills used to treat them.
I'm not suggesting for one minute that people don't suffer bouts of depression, they do. But the ad above, and ads like it, are not aimed at those people. The ad is aimed at the consumer who would have been convinced that his or her depression is more serious than your average depression.
I'm all for the MHRA sanctioning these types of ads. It will make the British public ask questions. It will also highlight how dangerous these types of drugs are... and how those that market them probably should be labelled with a mental disorder themselves.