Sunday, January 20, 2008

Drugs, and the nice, well-dressed people who ply them

Okay, just a quick little spout here, because I was reminded of my ire about this issue when I spoke to my parents earlier this evening. (Did you know that Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart, has never actually practiced medicine? Has never even taken an internship to do so? Boy, when you see him on TV, touting the benefits of Lipitor in his spiffy white coat, it certainly would be easy to make that assumption. Got a boatload of money for making that ad, though. [See the story here: don't miss the last three paragraphs.] Thanks, Dad and Mom, for telling me this so I can have yet another reason to distrust the big drug companies; now they’re misleading me as well as trying to make a sale off of my unhealthy back.)

Anyway. Back to my ire, the root of which you may have guessed by now. I’m reminded of it each time I go to the doctor’s office, and depending on the season in our home, that can be pretty often. Lately, we’ve been able to steer clear—but Halloween and Thanksgiving were not nearly so kind, and during those weeks, we spent many dull hours waiting in lobbies and sterile (so they say) rooms for doctors and nurses.

And each time, each and every stinkin’ time we were there, I saw at least one—but usually more than one—well-dressed youngish person, carrying a briefcase or laptop case or both. Who were these attractive professionals hanging out at doc’s place, sweet-talking the receptionist? How did these suits manage to get through the magic door before my sniffly, fevered little kid? Why, they were prescription drug representatives, of course. Were they sick, you ask? Of course not. They were there primarily, I'd guess, to introduce the doctors to their employer's newest available drugs.

That’s right, they were there to push drugs. I’m starting to see very little difference between these folks and the corner crack dealer. At least the crack dealer doesn’t present himself as a respectable and responsible member of society.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. I know that many, many people have benefited from prescription drugs, be it on a daily basis or in a one-time emergency situation. Drugs save lives. They improve lives. They are valuable in health maintenance; for some people, they are absolutely imperative. And I even know a fellow who became a drug company representative, and he was a very nice guy, amicable, admirable—not a dealer at all.

And yet. Why is it that I see more prescription drug advertisements than any other type of ad, both on television and in print? How is it right that, as has been reported, the companies that produce these drugs spend more money telling people to ask their doctor for a substance than they spend on researching said substance? That’s messed up.

I was furious last time this happened at the doctor’s office. I was thinking, why can’t the doctor just say “No, thank you”? Why must he or she continue to sacrifice already-at-a-premium time and energy to these reps? And then, even as I was spewing fire, I pictured that little case that the reps carry. Oh, yeah. Free samples. Have I ever received any of those? Yep. Have you? Likely. If the doctors don’t “visit” with the reps regularly, could it jeopardize the free sample supply? Maybe. I won’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but it certainly gave me pause.

However, I STILL think it’s messed up. Drugs that save lives should not be advertised to the consumer public as just another purchasable product. It’s just wrong, and it wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid, no one ever suggested to my family that we ask the doctor about a specific drug. We’d never even heard the names of the drugs. I can remember knowing, as a little kid, that antibiotics saved the life of my sister, who’d had complications from appendicitis...but I don’t remember the specific name of the antibiotic. We didn’t need to know because the doctor knew. Remember the doctor? Our health advisor? The trusted and knowledgeable professional who studied this stuff so we didn’t have to?

I liked those days better. We got to see the doctor sooner, and we didn’t have to ask him anything about mysterious drugs we couldn't pronounce. The doctor asked us questions, and then he did his job and treated us. Remember that?


Anonymous said...

Oh Mel, you hit upon a sore spot with me, too! Those drug dealers, I mean reps, in every doctor's office taking up the doc's time so I have to wait extra long for MY appointment. And yes, I do think the sampling is a huge deal. I appreciate samples, but not when the reps take up my time. Can't the docs schedule reps only on certain days or certain times, when regular patients aren't waiting? And yes, my knowledge of childhood prescription drugs I received from Dr. Miller (who actually came to the house!) was along the lines of "yucky pink medicine" (probably penicillin) and that great-tasting grape cough syrup for my frequent bronchitis.

Mel said...

Glad I'm not alone in my annoyance. Well, I wish it wouldn't happen so often and then neither of us would be need to be annoyed by it... oh well. It just makes me upset that the life-saving stuff is "marketed" like a face cream or restaurant. And I hate how they push it SOOOOOOO hard until it's no longer under patent, and then when the profit margin drops to almost nothing, they act like it's suddenly no longer effective--which is rarely the case. That was what the end of that article talked about--how so many of these drugs are quite similar and practically interchangeable, but the doc will be encouraged to push the newest b/c the companies will make the most. PUKE. So much for putting the patient first. I'll tell you what's first: $$$.