As someone who spent ten years inside the pharmaceutical industry, I can tell you one thing for sure: Big Pharma goes where the money is. And the money is with the ladies.
Although women are certainly not the only targets of drug ads, winning the female audience is critical to the success of any given drug. Women are more proactive about their health, more likely to “talk to their doctor”, more likely to encourage their husbands to seek medical treatment (than their husband is to seek it himself), and more likely to manage the healthcare for the entire family. It is just darned good business for pharma to set their sights on the ladies. But what is good for business — explosive prescription sales of new drugs — is not necessarily good for public health.
Newer is not better, Dorothy
The vast majority of the drug ads we see are for the newest and most expensive drugs available. These drugs are exceptionally profitable for the industry, but newer is definitely not better when it comes to patient safety. Few people realize that “new” means that the drug has been tried in a smaller number of patients and for a shorter period of time than drugs that have been around for years. Despite these limited studies, new meds quickly reach millions of consumers through very effective direct-to-consumer advertising.
It is often not until these drugs are consumed by the masses that potential problems (or public awareness of problems) in the form of dangerous and deadly side effects begin to arise. Patients who take “new” drugs become unknowing guinea pigs.
Dorothy Hamill spinning around the rink and driving millions to their docs for Vioxx served as a testament to this scenario. But even the Vioxx fallout has not stopped Merck’s machine as they now push marketing and mandates for Gardasil, their HPV vaccine.