From the Editor in Chief—Consumers and Personal Responsibility

Mar 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 3

Carol L. Fisher
This was the week for awards. The Academy Awards, which honored the film industry, captured the eye of millions worldwide. They were followed midweek by The Fourth Annual Top 25 Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Marketers of the Year Awards. Sponsored by USA TODAY and DTC Perspectives magazine, these awards celebrated the accomplishments of 2004's most talented DTC pharmaceutical marketers.

Sandwiched in between the two was an event called The Bitter Pill Awards for Exposing Drug Company Manipulation of Consumers, designed by consumer health advocates to embarrass the pharmaceutical industry for its "marketing hype of prescription drugs and consumer manipulation."

This last award series was conceived by Boston-based Community Catalyst and sponsored by one of its projects called the Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL). PAL is a coalition of more than 100 state, local, and national senior, labor, and consumer health advocacy groups in 35 US states. PAL presented awards such as The Performance Anxiety Award: For Exploitation of Male Fears of Inadequacy and The Speak No Evil Award: For Concealing Drug Risks and Benefits in the Name of Profits.

To add fuel to their cause, Catalysts' press release of the event stated that DTC advertising of prescription drugs is a $4 billion/yr. industry with ads that "persuade consumers to ask their doctors for expensive brand-name drugs that they often do not need." Of course, there was no mention of the estimated $38.8 billion the pharmaceutical and biotech industries spent in 2004 to discover and develop new medicines, reported by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Nor was there a peep about the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's calculations that without the new medications developed over the last 30 years by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, 815,000 more Americans would die annually from heart disease and 250,000 more would die from strokes.

We all live with a certain degree of risk on a daily basis, probably more so if you live in a highly industrialized country where technological advances and affluence breed even more opportunities for risk. However, it is every consumer's responsibility to do his or her homework before making a buy/use decision, whether the choice is for a cellular phone, a diet, or a medication. That includes studying the risks, weighing them against the rewards, and then taking responsibility for one's decision. Admittedly, sometimes unfortunate things happen at the hand of others. But I think a lot less than from our own eagerness to try something new without so much as a by-your-leave when it comes to reading simple instructions or heeding warnings.

I could sympathize with PAL's cause if we the consumers had no ability to think for ourselves and no free will. But most of the time, we have both. It's just that it's so much easier (and maybe financially rewarding?) to let someone else pay for our mistakes.

Carol L. Fisher, Editor in Chief
BioPharm International

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