On My Soapbox: Drug Advertising on TV

OK, I’ve got a complaint and no one to pitch my bitch to…..except you, Constant Reader. I’ve tried writing to the drug companies about their stupid commercials, but I think they all think I’m just another kook with an axe to grind.

You see, I have an issue with the peddling of powerful drugs to the American consumer, most of whom don’t know their butts from a hole in the ground when it comes to medications. Especially when it comes to recommending antipsychotics, which are some pretty hardcore meds, without ever telling the public that that is EXACTLY what they are.

I think we’ve all seen the commercials in which a female cartoon character just can’t shake her depression until her doctor puts her on Abilify; now there’s a new spot for Latuda, which is another of the newer atypical APs. This one features a real actress who’s obviously living the good life, even with her bipolar depression.

First of all, I do have to give a shout-out to the producers for even mentioning the word bipolar; as we all know, it’s still a highly stigmatized illness despite its (undeserved) reputation as being the diagnosis du jour just because a number of celebrities have come forward with it. I’m even glad this commercial shows regular people doing regular things despite the presence of symptoms we BPs are all too familiar with.

But I have to take issue with the fact that Latuda and Abilify are both being marketed to the American public as antidepressants. I have a pretty good idea as to why this is: people tend to freak out at the word “antipsychotic”. I certainly did when I was first prescribed one, even though I knew better. The average consumer, however, does NOT, and now they’re going to trot down to their primary care provider’s office, tell the doctor that they’ve been on Prozac/Wellbutrin/Lexapro etc. for months and still don’t feel right, and ask for one of these potent drugs. And the PCP who’s not even trained in psych may very well write the script, not really knowing much more about it than the patient.

Now, the commercials do point up the possible side effects ad nauseam, but instead of being scared to death, the consumer is lulled into a false sense of security by the pleasant, soft-focus images of attractive actors riding bicycles and walking on the beach with their equally attractive “family”. I know that even I sometimes find myself wondering if life would be better if I were on one of those drugs. After all, I like beachcombing too, and while we’re at it, I’d like to NOT have depressive episodes, period.

So I pity the poor sucker who drags his sorry butt to his doctor, gets an RX for Abilify or Latuda, and then finds himself unable to get off the stuff when his issue resolves because these medications should never be discontinued without help from someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. And unless a patient really can’t manage his/her illness without one (and there are some of us who can’t), APs really shouldn’t be used long-term. But do you think the drug manufacturer is going to tell consumers that?

Oh HELL no.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is my rant for the day. Thanks for listening.

Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

5 thoughts on “On My Soapbox: Drug Advertising on TV

  1. And thank you for ranting…
    I have been on Abilify for a few years and it was prescribed as an AP and since then, the psych-docs I’ve had have understood that and treated it as such. I think it is important for all of us that put any type of medication in our bodies to fully research that medication as well as have in depth conversations with the docs that prescribe those meds. We are our own best advocate. That goes double for those of use that are responsible for others that cannot help themselves.

    On a different note, glad the job is a thumbs up.


  2. I have the opposite reaction when I see those commercials. My grandma can’t believe anyone would try a drug with so many awful side effects listed, I told her the person (or at least in my own experience) has to be pretty darn desperate to give it a shot.


  3. You go girl, rant away, I think your totally justified!

    Living in the UK I can thankfully say that pretty much anything stronger than a cold remedy isn’t advertised on TV. Its a pretty scary prospect that any prescription drug is advertised on TV let alone something as serious as an AP. In the UK GPs (PCP) as a rule wont touch anything stronger than a first line antidepressant. When I went to my GP she told me there was nothing she could do until I had seen the Psych as although they can monitor and manage these medication longer term they can’t prescribe them. Before I could start Lamotrogine (sorry not sure what its US name is, its an anti-epileptic used for bipolar depression) I had a whole battery of blood tests and an ECG to rule out kidney,liver heart trouble etc before they would allow me to start taking it, and this apparently is one of the best tolerated medications for BP. Scary, not the stuff of fluffy adverts.


  4. My GP was asking me why I didn’t take the Zyprexa all the time. I told him that as he knew
    I was borderline diabetic. I only take it when I’m going down the rabbit hole on the edge of
    bizarre and squirrely. Will have to lose some fat but that is usually pretty easy. Taking 3 classes of antidepressants at once without a mood stabilizer right now. Its working but a little
    risky. Certainly enjoy your writing! Hope the job is going well.


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