top of page

Desensitization by Big Pharma

Have you ever listened carefully to the pharmaceutical ads running continually on TV? At the end of each you’ll hear a litany of side effects that might occur if you use the drug being advertised. Some of those side effects are horrific: an increased likelihood of some cancers (sometimes named specifically – pancreatic, leukemia, lymphoma), stroke and even sudden death. Still, nobody seems to care. People have seen so many ads for so many drugs over the last 30-years that no one pays attention to the side-effects anymore. We simply tune them out.

It has cost nearly $4 Billion, in 2020 alone, to bring the American population to the point of being totally numb to the downside of many drug treatments - in a very well-calculated strategy. In the last five years, alone, these gigantic pharmaceutical ad budgets have doubled since they slowly began running in the late 80’s on TV. The massive amounts spent on television, designed to deliver increasing sales and exploding stockholder profits, are created for one purpose but actually deliver two more. It’s the two extra deliverables that are fascinating.

The first one is the push-pull marketing effect Big Pharma has created. Although these companies reach larger physician practices and physicians in major markets with well-paid sales reps dispensing samples. They also reach most doctors through direct advertising in medical journals and magazines, they sponsor conventions and even endow many major medical schools. In recent decades, they now use mass media to reach consumers and individual physicians, especially those in smaller markets. The mass media they love is television since they snag a few doctors along with their consumer target. It’s the consumer target that creates the pull.

When the potential patient is educated, it educates them and creates a demand by the patient. In other words, the patient asks the physician about the drug and in preparation, the physician must spend even more time truly studying the latest and greatest drugs in advance The push-pull is direct selling to the doctor on one hand while creating consumer demand on the other.

Also on television, there isn’t time to list every single precaution or side effect, so the list is abbreviated, unlike in magazine ads or on product literature. But, that isn’t the second benefit to pharmaceuticals, it’s just a nice extra. Companies like AbbVie, Bristol-Meyers, Roche, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Sonofi, for example, spend some serious money on TV, alone. Just to advertise their drug, Humira, AbbieVie spent a whopping $465 million in 2019. Another, Xeljanz – manufactured by Pfizer, and a competitor of Humira but is also used to treat ulcerative colitis – spent upwards of $275 million. I point these out because to market just two little drugs on television costs nearly three quarters of a billion dollars on television, alone. Easy to see how the $4 billion spent in total with this media is an easy number to reach. Now, I ask you, is there any wonder why prescription costs are so high?

Drug companies can certainly justify the expense, long term, because they have managed to mentally anesthetize the consumers they reach, with repetition. People know there are likely side-effects but don’t listen carefully and either believe they are more mild than they are or assume they’ll never experience them, if they take the drug.

Probably the most tragic fact is that our doctors will rarely, if ever, specifically point out the details of those side-effects at the time of writing our scripts. He or she might mention a couple but certainly won’t dwell on the bad ones. They don’t have to because their liability is covered since they were listed on the dozens of commercials we heard and we’ve received a comprehensive list on the description document from the pharmacy, which most of us don’t read in detail. Our physicians won’t be facing any lawsuit from their patient, directly, since their liability is covered. Drug companies still have some liability if they were aware that the risk was greater than stated, but only then. Fact is, their liability is minimized by the mind-numbing list explained at the end of each commercial.

Desensitization is real and it doesn’t ever work to protect you, the consumer; it works to protect everyone else. The pharmaceutical industry is just one example and if you think a bit, I’ll also bet you can come up with other areas of our culture where we have become desensitized to habits, behaviors and lifestyles that are destructive but which society somehow condones. As a result, the fabric of our society has become weakened. All desensitization is harmful.

So, 2021 is a new year and a perfect time to begin regaining your power. You can do so by paying attention to the television commercials you see. Just listen a little closer tomorrow! Then, to protect yourself and your health, start a dialogue with your physician about risk versus reward with some of these drugs. For example, which one has the fewest side-effects or, are there options outside of drug therapy I might try? Or, more importantly, would you take this?

Listening, asking and learning will help you make better choices for your healing. These new habits will add to your personal empowerment. Just asking new and better questions will become an exhilarating change, I promise.

Happy New Year.

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page