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Hearts, Minds, and Maladies: Toward a Critical Theory of the Commodification of Pharmaceuticals
Unformatted Document Text:  18 ad-driven questions from patients rather than ones of fundamental importance. According to surveys by the FDA in 1999 and the Kaiser Foundation in 2001 over 50 million people – 20 to 30 percent of consumers – responded to drug advertising by posing questions to their doctor. (Siegel 2002.) Big Pharma has, for example, recently begun to push its drugs by circulating coupons in newspapers, magazines, and on the internet for “free trials.” As the Wall Street Journal observed earlier this year, “Like TV drug ads, the coupons are intended to push patients into physicians offices. But they put more pressure on doctors because patients get discounts only if the physician prescribes the exact drug listed on the coupon” (Harris 2002a). The drug industry counters that direct to consumer advertising makes patients more aware of medicinal choices, and that “doctors are still in charge so patients won’t get the wrong medicine just because they liked an ad on TV.” According to a spokesperson for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group, “’The patient doesn’t necessarily get the medicine he asked the doctor about’” (Burton 2002). This does not always play out ideally in doctors’ offices, however. As one family practitioner explains, “You end up spending your time talking about the medicine they had a coupon for, that might not be right for them, instead of talking about the best way to treat their disease. It undermines what we’re trying to do” (Harris 2002a). This is likely what the AMA foresaw when it forcefully reined in drug advertising in the Progressive era. Moreover, many of the drugs that are developed, patented, and commodified via multi-million dollar advertising campaigns are frequently no better than the medications they may be replacing. Drug companies almost uniformly demand high prices on drugs receiving new patents they’ve introduced into the marketplace even if benefits may be minimal if at all existent. Dr. Sharon Levine, associate director of Kaiser Permanente’s physician unit,

Authors: Tracy, James.
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18
ad-driven questions from patients rather than ones of fundamental importance.
According to surveys by the FDA in 1999 and the Kaiser Foundation in 2001 over
50 million people – 20 to 30 percent of consumers – responded to drug
advertising by posing questions to their doctor. (Siegel 2002.) Big Pharma has,
for example, recently begun to push its drugs by circulating coupons in
newspapers, magazines, and on the internet for “free trials.” As the Wall Street
Journal observed earlier this year, “Like TV drug ads, the coupons are intended
to push patients into physicians offices. But they put more pressure on doctors
because patients get discounts only if the physician prescribes the exact drug
listed on the coupon” (Harris 2002a). The drug industry counters that direct to
consumer advertising makes patients more aware of medicinal choices, and that
“doctors are still in charge so patients won’t get the wrong medicine just because
they liked an ad on TV.” According to a spokesperson for Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group, “’The patient
doesn’t necessarily get the medicine he asked the doctor about’” (Burton 2002).
This does not always play out ideally in doctors’ offices, however. As one family
practitioner explains, “You end up spending your time talking about the
medicine they had a coupon for, that might not be right for them, instead of
talking about the best way to treat their disease. It undermines what we’re
trying to do” (Harris 2002a). This is likely what the AMA foresaw when it
forcefully reined in drug advertising in the Progressive era.
Moreover, many of the drugs that are developed, patented, and
commodified via multi-million dollar advertising campaigns are frequently no
better than the medications they may be replacing. Drug companies almost
uniformly demand high prices on drugs receiving new patents they’ve
introduced into the marketplace even if benefits may be minimal if at all existent.
Dr. Sharon Levine, associate director of Kaiser Permanente’s physician unit,


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