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Pharmaceutical Advertisements Are All Over Social Media. Here’s Why.

Pharmaceutical Advertisements Are All Over Social Media. Here’s Why.

Pharmaceutical Advertisements Are All Over Social Media. Here’s Why. 1080 1080 Panter, Panter & Sampedro

The United States Food and Drug Administration has not updated its guidelines for pharmaceutical guidelines since 2014. The FDA’s social media guidance requires that sponsored posts that advertise pharmaceutical products evenly balance risk and benefit information but offer no clear instructions pertaining to private social media communications.

According to the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, the United States is the only nation other than New Zealand that allows direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Consumers are more likely to request pharmaceuticals they have seen advertised and research suggests that there is an increased chance doctors will prescribe the drugs when asked. Direct-to-consumer advertising has increased from $1.3 billion to $6 billion between 1996 and 2016. Among the top spenders on Facebook advertising in 2020 were Pfizer and Merck, spending almost $1 billion in 2019. 

Telehealth laws that were waved during the pandemic also contributed to the rise in prescriptions for powerful drugs such as OxyContin and Adderall during the last three years. Where previously in-person visits were required before a physician could prescribe such pharmaceuticals, only a telehealth appointment is now necessary. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently proposed safeguards for drugs with the most potential to be abused such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Patient Influencers

A growing tactic of pharmaceutical companies is their partnering with “patient influencers”. These are individuals with an online platform where they share information about certain medical conditions they have and engage with a community that shares a similar condition. Increasingly pharmaceutical corporations such as Janssen, Pfizer, GSK, and Novartis are leveraging their relationships with patient influencers to market their products. 

Social Media and the Ozempic Shortage

Pharmaceutical advertising in combination with telemedicine played a key role in the shortage of a Type 2 diabetes drug called Ozempic. In 2022, there was a sharp increase in individuals requesting the drug through digital health companies, often supplying no more than an online intake form and receiving a prescription for the drug the same day. Ozempic and similar drugs are being marketed on social media as weight loss wonder drugs when few of these drugs are approved by the FDA for weight loss. For those willing to pay, these medications often come with a hefty price tag. Wegovy, intended for adults with “weight-related medical problems” can cost a patient $1,305 a month. As reported by CBS News, patients often gain weight back after they stop taking the medication. 

Misleading Pharmaceutical Advertising on Social Media

Weight Loss medications aren’t the only prescription drugs being increasingly advertised to individuals over the last few years. New York Times writer Jessica Grose reported being bombarded with advertisements for ketamine and ADHD medications such as Adderall on her social media pages. In a newsletter to her subscribers entitled “Why are ketamine ads following me around the internet?” Grose describes advertisements asking if she had symptoms like fidgeting, overthinking, or overanalyzing. Answering “yes” to any of these symptoms would make Grose an ideal candidate for ADHD medications according to the advertisements. The FDA confirmed an Adderall shortage in 2022 partially due to an increase in individuals receiving prescriptions online

Listen To Your Doctor, Not A Digital Advertisement

Although the American Medical Association has called for a ban on digital advertising of pharmaceutical drugs and the FDA has attempted to get drug companies to adhere to their guidelines, pharmaceutical companies continue to report increasing sales due to the combination of digital advertising and telemedicine. 

Many of these pharmaceutical drugs were originally intended to be taken under a physician’s care. Under the current advertising and telemedicine laws, that is no longer the case. For instance, the adverse effects of ketamine use include disorientation, confusion, loss of motor control, increased blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and breathing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, and prolonged detachment from the environment. Habitual use of many of the drugs prescribed online may also lead to dependency. 

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