Medical commercials

It comes as no surprise that there is a lot of advertising on U.S. television stations. I believe they had both television broadcast and commercials before anyone else, so of course it is a highly developed art over there. But where we have an abundance of films about how the right shampoo and the right toothpaste can give you the life you want, U.S. pharmaceutical companies promise you that happiness is just a pill away. A lot of the medicines we’re talking about here have very serious side effects, and sometimes the side effect is what the drug is actually supposed to prevent. One of the drugs that was advertised when I lived in the United States was Zoloft. This medication is used to treat depression, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and OCD. There is no doubt that many people get their lives improved by this type of medication, but there are also some that have unpleasant symptoms that are directly caused by the medication. In addition to a variety of physical and neurological side effects, Zoloft can give you depression, altered personality, nightmares, anxiety and nervousness. I hope there were some eyebrows went up in the air now. What about this advertising text? “Get rid of your nightmares and make new ones with our medicine,” Noo, I don’t think so.

Because there is an information sheet enclosed in the medicine box, the uses and side effects of the medication isn’t completely incomprehensible to Americans. But they don’t even have to read it because they’ve learned everything from the commercials. Here’s an example from the information for Zocor. Under the heading interactions are the following: “Potent CYP 3A4 inhibitors such as itraconazole, HIV protease inhibitors and nefazodone increase the risk of myopathy and rhabdomyolysis by increasing the concentration of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitory activity in plasma.”  Okay. That was very clarifying. What is even more frightening is that there are websites that claim they sell prescription drugs without a prescription. In addition to the fact that medications have side effects, bear in mind that they can also react with other medications. Is it really a good idea to let ignorant patients navigate the maze of medications?

Many of the commercials are about high blood pressure and cholesterol medications, and even though these drugs save lives, they are not entirely unproblematic. I remember especially the films about Zocor, which in Norway is sold under the name Simvastatin. This medication is used to reduce cholesterol, but among its side effects are both kidney and liver failure, in addition to a number of other serious things. I do not really understand why prescription medicine is advertised at all in the United States. It’s not like you can just go to your GP and request a medicine, but I guess the idea is to put your doctor under pressure, and hope he yields. That is probably the case with insomniacs. I heard about a medicine called Ambien. It has such serious side effects that it makes me wonder if it’s worth the risk.

Ambien is a hypnotic drug, and it seems to hypnotize the brain to sleep. If I have understood it correctly, this medicine prevents the transmission of certain nerve impulses, and that makes you tired. This wouldn’t be a problem if that’s all Ambien did, but like most medicines Ambien has some nasty side effects too. Here are some examples I found online (www.askdocweb.com) :

The New York Times reporter Stephanie Saul wrote a story of a nurse who took Ambien before going to sleep one night in January 2003. After she fell asleep, she went out in the cold Denver night wearing only a thin nightshirt. She drove off in her car, caused an accident, urinated in the middle of an intersection and ended up in a violent argument with the police, who came to arrest her. The woman said she did not remember anything of what happened.

Some might conclude that this is just an excuse some use to get out of a tricky situation, but this story is far from unique. There are a growing number of Americans who have experienced the strange, sometimes frightening effects of this pill.

Another woman reported a similar incident in 2004. She took an Ambien, 10 mg a night, at 10:30 p.m. and went to bed. She slept for at least an hour before she got up and drove away in her car. The woman was arrested at 1:59 and imprisoned for DUI (driving under the influence). She woke up and discovered to her horror that she was in jail. How she got there she could not answer. All charges were dropped, fortunately.

Vicki wrote about her partner: “My boyfriend is in jail now with a DUI because of Ambien. He was alone at home the first night he took the medicine. He went to bed, woke up, sat in his truck, drove two miles down the road and into in a parking lot where he bumped into a parked car. He was accused of being drunk, put in handcuffs, beaten and imprisoned. He can not remember what happened. Be careful with Ambien. If you can not sleep after taking it, some strange and perhaps dangerous thing could happen.”

Another poster wrote, “I have only taken Ambien a few times, the last time three days ago. My husband took a shower, and when he came into the living room afterwards, he saw that I was staring at the Christmas tree in terror. I remember thinking that the tree was trying to catch me, and although I knew that it was not real, it seemed very real to me. When I turned to my husband, who shouted at me, it looked as if his face melted away. I like the deep sleep Ambien gives me, but I’m not so sure I can deal with hallucinations.”

Another woman had the best sex ever with her husband, which sounds like a great side effect, but understandably it scared her. Her husband told the next day that she had done things he never knew she was capable of. The only problem is that she does not remember anything of what was perhaps the great sexual climax in this relationship. I thought it was just us men who relaxed so much that we fell asleep almost before the act was over (according to evil tongues we only last 10 seconds). Actually, the solution is straightforward for us men. A few seconds of sex will send most of us into a coma. It is a little worse for the women, but perhaps a televised football game together with the husband would fix it.

As for how smart it is to solve your insomnia with a drug that causes you to act out your dreams (by the way Ambien warns about this in its information sheet), it’s tempting to quote one of my favorite movies, I Robot. The police detective, Del  Spooner, said after he was right: “You know, somehow, I told you so just doesn’t quite cover it.”

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2 thoughts on “Medical commercials

  1. I saw this on your Norwegian site and was hoping you had an English translation.

    Well said.

    The pharmaceutical push in the US is unbelievable. I’m pretty sure it’s gotten worse since you wrote this, and you are absolutely correct about the need to read the package inserts.

    Ten years back, I had the opportunity to take meds for depression and insomnia.
    Reviewing the potential side effects of the depression prescription convinced me that a bit of prolonged unhappiness was a whole lot better than a headlong dive into total darkness and suicide.
    The sample drug that I was given for my sleeplessness didn’t really work…and I don’t remember what it was called, but was a little surprised that they would just hand me a few pills at the doctor’s office and say “see if this works” without actually discussing potential problems.

  2. I honestly believe those people, Big Pharma, don’t care about people. They just want to make as much money a possible. There are a lot of pushers.

    I am grafeful to have a reader like you. I wish everyone was as thorough or interested in my old posts as you are. Thank you 🙂

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