Friday, January 18, 2008

Kathleen's Rant on Prescription Drug Advertising

Non Sequitur comic

Are you feeling tired, irritable, even downright sick of TV drug advertising? These are troubling symptoms, my friends. Maybe you need to take a pill. Ask your doctor if Sheepdip is right for you.

The other night Jon Stewart hit the nail on the head with a bit about the ad for a new drug for RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome). Should I say, medical breakthrough? Before I go further, let me say that I know how irritating RLS can be. It irritated me for years. I didn't know to call it, and it turns out that Jon has it, too, and he calls it "The Jimmy Legs." So cool, me and Jon Stew... Anyway, it keeps you awake at night and drives you crazy in the car and it's a nuisance. But it isn't life threatening, which is the only way you could get me to take a drug that might have the kind of side effects this one has. "Tell your doctor if you experience increased sexual or gambling urges." The first time I heard this ad, my jaw dropped. I've been waiting for Stewart or Colbert to get hold of it. Stewart had the same reaction I did. He was, like, imitating me.

Take the Jimmy Leg link and come right back.

Are you back? Can you believe it? What kind of drug targets what I used to call itchy muscles in my legs (word smith that I am), sex drive and the urge to gamble? Wouldn't you be more worried about becoming a sex maniac who loves to gamble than losing a little sleep over achy legs? Remember the your-brain-on-drugs ad? So here's a new one: This is Kathleen with Crazy Legs. This is Kathleen on Requip. I know--your imaginations are having a field day.

Okay, I'll say it. I am offended by prescription drug advertising. I looked it up. The drugs most advertised are for depression, impotence, weight loss, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, allergies, bladder control, inability to get it up, and now RLS. The ads don't seem particularly educational, although I can see adolescent males tuning in on the warning: "See your doctor if you experience an erection longer than 4 hours." Life-saving? Maybe the one for plain ol' over the counter aspirin.

Put these ads together with the public service ad that says that the fastest rising drug problem among teenagers is prescription drugs--the ones they find at home--and it seems to me that it's time to do what we did with cigarette advertising. Get it off TV. The pharm folks will counter with "First Amendment violation!" So did Phillip Morris. I don't think everything should be advertised, especially on TV. This hasn't been going on that long--started in the 90's--and all it does is jack up the cost of prescription drugs. They're spending almost 5 billion dollars a year--up from about a bil in 2000--on these TV ads. And you can't just go out and buy the stuff. All you can do is pester your doctor. I say, let the drug companies deal with the medical community. Leave it to the sales reps.

What do you say?

Oh, yeah, this does have a bit of a connection to my March book. (Let's put those advertising dollars where they'll do the most good. Books!) In Mystic Horseman there's a reference to RLS, and the hero kinda makes a joke of it. (I've had it; I can joke about it.) And that's pre Jimmy Legs.

One more oh yeah. What I didn't know until I researched for this post is that, according to the NYT, Congress is debating the issue as we speak. I watch the news all the time. Why did I not know this? Oh, yeah. That's where I keep seeing these ads.


Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, this is one of the best ideas I've heard in a loooong time. I'm so sick of advertisements in general and prescription medicines in particular!

They encourage people to doctor themselves. The docs s/b the ones coming up with the solutions.

The lowering of costs is a big bonus.

Who was the congress person who brought this to the table?

Betina Krahn said...

LOL! LOVed the Jimmy Legs bit! Thanks for a solid laugh, Kathy! Your post is Wonderful!!!

For at least two years I've been wondering about the RLS ads and the gambling and sexual side effects! Whew-- it wasn't just me thinking the whole of Big Pharma has gone mad. It's not like we don't have enough BIG diseases and medical problems to cure!

Let's take a poll: how many of us have actually gone into a doctor's office and said "I've got X symptoms and I want that cool new drug I saw advertised on Fox." Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Good question, Betina. The only time I've asked about specific drugs it's been because I'd read about studies that had been done or, in one case, met a researcher from the U of M whose specialty for 20 years had been estrogen and hormone replacement who said that we were getting the wrong info from Pharm-sponsored research and that women should be using human estrogen, not equine (horse pee) estrogen. But that info wasn't getting out. She opened my eyes tot he differce between research done under university auspices and that done by drug company researchers. Again, see tobacco industry.

Kathleen Eagle said...

This morning's Strib has a front page article that ties right into this discussion. A Duluth-based medical outfit (hospitals and clinics) has decided to ban freebies given out by Pharm companies. No more pens, note pads, calculators, disembodied Allegra noses that say "That snot funny." Spokesman says those freebies do influence doctors when they write our scripts. They want to get away from the perception that the medical community is tucked into the back pocket of Big Pharm. Hooray! Now let's get away from ANYBODY being in that back pocket, especially our elected reps. (article available at

flip said...

I hate drug commercials. If it is being advertised, it is overpriced and unnecessary. One to hear something worst, the federal government is pushing doctors to prescribe methadone for pain management because it costs very little money. However, it is very ineffective in pain management, especially for cancer patients and others in severe pain. The worst news that it is the easiest narcotic to kill a person with an overdose. It is the number one cause of death by accidental overdose in Idaho and most states. But our government keeps pushing it on low income patients to keep drug costs down.

The reason that I know this is the Bonneville coroner is leading a one-man crusade to stop the prescribing of this dangerous and ineffective drug.

Cindy Gerard said...

I've got Jimmy legs too!!! Who knew :o)
I have often pondered why drug ads are on TV. I mean - that's the physicians job to decide what's best for who, with some educated questions from the patient.
Let's hope we have some positive results from the congressional debate - but I'm guessing the lobbiests will win out and it will be one more waste of tax payer time and money.

lois greiman said...

I have jimmy legs too. Yikes. And I too thought...what the hell are we worrying about. Go for a fickin' walk.

I remember when my kids had acne and I refused to put them on meds for it folks thought I was nuts, but why would I want my children to believe we should drug them so they can look better? Especially when the condition will clear up on its on in a couple of years. Sheesh. This county needs help.

Thanks for the post, K.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, you are soooo cutting-edge. Your post and the article in the STRIB. Do you have an inside source?

I can tell you that most reputable doctors HATE tripping over the pharm reps. The thing I like most about the STRIB article is that the movement to block all of the pens/notepads/etc from being distributed came from an Emergency Medicine Physician. They don't have time for pharm reps, the have SICK PEOPLE TO TAKE CARE OF.

Now, if they could just get the advertising off the the TV & out of the magazines.......

Don't bet on it, though. There's HUGE money at stake, and the pharm cos know it.

Playground Monitor said...

My name is Marilyn and I have Jimmy Legs AND PLMD (Periodic Leg Movement Disorder -- this is where you actually kick in your sleep). I went through the whole sleep testing procedure and I got 'em bad. Bad enough that I take meds. But 'twas the sleep specialist who prescribed them, with full disclosure about any side effects. I didn't see an ad on TV and ask for them. Actually I've had it so long it was before Requip and Mirapex ads were on TV. And I was put on Mirapex before it was officially designated for RLS.

There are degrees of RLS and as I said, I have it bad. If I don't take the meds, I'll go to sleep but wake up an hour later with my legs twitching and my whole body in pain. I literally cannot lie still. So I get up, take the pills and then sit in a tub of hot water to relax the muscles. One night I fell asleep while the water was still running and flooded not only the bathroom but the air conditioning ductwork as well. Oops! That scared me and now I fill the tub before I crawl in.

My situation aside, I agree with you that all the advertising and freebies has created an environment that's not good. I'm glad to see steps being taken to stop it.

At least last year they took children's cold meds off the market. My pediatrician didn't believe in them (and my kids are 25 and 29) and swore they caused ear infections. My older boy only had one ear infection in his life and the younger one had 2. My friends who gave their kids cold meds at the first sniffle spent thousands on doctor visits, antibiotics and ear tubes. Give 'em plenty to drink, a little Tylenol if the fever is really high and 99% of the time they'll get over it just fine.

Just like with yesterday's blog on food, natural is better and there's lots of natural cures that work great.


Kathleen Eagle said...

Me? Cutting edge? That is so cool. I'd like to claim to have an inside track on something, but no.

The last time I visited the clinic (for flu shot and regular check up--I'm pretty healthy, so don't go often) there was a drug rep at the desk trying to butt in on one of the dr's schedules. The dr told him he didn't have time, but the guy kept at it. The dr said maybe another time and walked away. I know the sales people have to eat, too. It's the system that's screwed up. They should make their presentations some other time, some other way.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Marilyn, I feel a little bit of your pain. As far as I know, I don't kick in my sleep, and it's been a while since I experienced RLS. Maybe we outgrow it. (A benefit of menopause, per chance?) I described it to my dr more than once and was never offered medication--not much sympathy, either. On long car rides there were times when I wanted to kick out the windshield. When it woke me up at night I would get up and stretch, pedal, yoga, whatever.
It's icky.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I wonder if there's any connection between RLS and "growing pains." My son had growing pains at night--mainly knees and calves--when he was little, and now his daughter (5 yrs) wakes up howling with it sometimes. Both long-legged and fast-growing tikes.

Anonymous said...

You hit on one of my pet peeves, Kathy. Those drug ads irritate me no end. Did you know the U.S. is one of only two countries (the other is New Zealand) that allows ads for prescription drugs on TV? They're banned everywhere else--and should have been yanked here a long time ago.

Also, did anyone see the 60Minutes piece (or maybe it was 20-20)about how drug companies hire marketing companies to come up with "catchy" or sexy names for so-called diseases and syndromes in order to sell drugs for them?

As to jimmy legs disappearing with menopause. "Fraid not, Kathy. At least, not for me. I've had jimmy legs since I was a kid. My sister, too. My grandmother called them the "fidgets" and made us go sit quietly until a chair until we could sit still like proper little ladies. Pure torture!

We both still get them on a nearly daily basis. Mine aren't bad enough that I've been driven to taking drugs. Yet. But my sister occasionly restores to Klonopin. It's been around for a coupla'three decades. the side effects are well-known (and certainly don't include increased sexual and gambling urges!) and it's not advertised.

My own doctor advises never taking any drug that hasn't been our in the marketplace for 10 or 15 years and been thoroughly road-tested by real people.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Candace, the 10-15 years on the market rule sounds like a good one. I'm taking note. And you don't know these things unless you talk to the dr and the pharmacist. Sometimes the pharmacist knows more than the dr, especially about drug interaction and side effects. Clyde had a blood pressure spike after he started taking something once, called the pharmacist, who said there was a possible interaction going on with something else he was taking. The dr had somehow missed that.

Playground Monitor said...

Menopause didn't help mine either. I take Klonopin as well as the Mirapex, which was originally developed to use for Parkinson's Disease. RLS, PLMD and PD are all related and categorized as movement disorders.

In my case, RLS and PLMD led to very poor quality sleep. I had 155 leg movements per HOUR. I never went through all the sleep cycles and as a result I was always exhausted. The meds were a blessing.

But as I said before, there's all levels of RLS and hopefully your won't get any worse. Some folks with mild RLS say that a calcium-magnesium supplement helps them.


Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, my hubby went through the sleep clinic. His snoring had becoming scary. Loud--so I'm awake anyway and suddenly he'd like get stuck. After an houp the sleep clinician woke him and said there was no need to continue. It's a dangerous condition because you never get tot he REM level and you actually stop breathing periodically. The put the breathing machine on him, and he actually slept. It's been a blessing for both of us. They say it adds 10 years to your life expectancy. (The life expectancy of a Lakota male is 44, so he says he's already on borrowed time.) He didn't think he'd be able to use it because it goes over the nose (he looks like Top Gun) and he's extremely claustrophobic, but he doesn't go anywhere overnight without it.

Moral of the story--snoring can be a much bigger problem than we think. (Not that keeping the spouse awake isn't a big problem. I tried everything short of pillow over the face.)

Keri Ford said...

I'm a suffer of RLS, though I'm not on meds, it's getting to the point where I'm considering it. Through my teenage years I only had it maybe once a month or so. Eventually it went to twice a month. Then I got pregnent: once a week.

And then AFTER the baby was born, it's been getting worse at a steady pace. Always in my knees, but sometimes it moves into my ankles too. Every night I have to take vitamins, ibueprophn (sp?), a Tums for the calcium, and then finally wrap my knees in a heating pad. I'll toss for 3 or 4 hours if I don't do one of these things. The lack of sleep is really starting to take it's toll, but man, I hate taking drugs.

I wish they'd pull the meds off the tv. not only for the costs, but they just don't belong there. There's enough people out there with enough problems that they don't need to add anything else to their list.

Playground Monitor said...

Oh the things we have in common.

My husband had sleep apnea too and spent about 6 months on one of those machines (called a CPAP -- Continuous Positive Air Pressure) before having surgery to remove his tonsils, adenoids, uvula, part of his soft palate and other fatty tissue in his throat. It was brutal surgery. BRUTAL. He was out of work for 6 weeks and couldn't eat anything but soft cold stuff for at least the first 2-3 weeks. But after he recovered they ran him thru the sleep clinic again and pronounced him cured. This was about 10 years ago.

Alas, he's snoring again but it's not apnea. I think it's cause he's put on some weight. Don't tell him I said that, though. ;-)


Kathleen Eagle said...

Yikes, Marilyn, that sounds like major major surgery.

The words I was looking for--sleep apnea. Words, Kathleen, use them or lose them.

Weight makes a big difference, too.

Detoxer said...

There is a prescription drug epidemic that is taking the lives of people of all ages and all economic classes. As the director of Novus Medical Detox, we daily see the ravages of prescription drugs. We need to wake up soon to the facts--some of these prescription drugs are just legal heroin and cocaine. They have the same molecular structure and create the same effects--except that they have the mantle of "legitimacy" because they can be obtained from a licensed pharmacy.

Since so many of the new drugs really don't show their side effects for at least a year after they are released on the public, one idea would be to keep the ads off for the first year. Add to this the idea that we should have full disclosure of all the clinical studies, not just the ones supporting the drug company, and we will have better informed people.

Steve Hayes

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