A curious phenomenon: What’s up with all of the prescription drug ads on the tube?

I’ve been a television watcher of some enthusiasm ever since Newton Minow declared the entire medium a “vast wasteland” — an assessment that now seems more valid than ever. You’d think that the increase in programming from a dozen channels when I was a kid to 200-plus would enable you to find something of value, yet the conclusion that “there’s nothing on” continues to prevail. What has changed in the last couple of years is the onslaught of prescription drug commercials. It’s really quite astounding. As an example, check NBC’s nightly news. More than two-thirds of the commercials that interupt the news stories are for remedies that heal you of one major ailment or another.

Enlarged prostrate? We’ve got the pill for you. Need a better cure for asthma? We can help. Depressed? Try our new drug.

In all of the drug commercials  you see, it’s elaborate graphics, happy patients(?), surrounded by benign people and appealing home life. No surprise. But what is striking are the disclaimers for using the product in the first place. The copy that details cautions for not using said pill exceeds the “sell” words by at least double, probably demanded by the FDA. In other words, the visuals say “go,” while the text says “not so fast.” It’s even gotten to the place where on-screen “doctors” are confirmed — with a small title at the bottom — as actors.

So the question is why now? The cynic would claim that the new emphasis on prescription drug advertising is further evidence of pharmapower which now can go directly to the customer, rather than less efficient lobbying of doctors. Create patient demand of the brand name in lieu of generics. I tend to agree. Plus, there’s enhanced awareness of maladies you probably never heard of, so if you become so afflicted you know what to ask for.

I guess my question is whether or not we’re really that sick as a nation.