Advertising Vs Addiction in the fight against pharmaceutical drugs

It is no secret that there has been an Influential increase in the production and sales of prescription drugs within the last 10-20 years. With this the increasing number of deaths associated with it have become more frequent; deaths such as Heath ledger, Michael Jackson and more recently Whitney Houston, we are left to wonder what could have caused this massive surge in popularity for these drugs.


Intensive research published by “The New England Journal of Medicine” published their article on the Promotion of Prescription Drugs to Consumers, describing increases are due to advertising methods, pharmaceutical companies use to sell directly to the consumer. (Meredith et al, 2002). Thus illustrates spending in 1996-2000 is at a significant increase of 212%, for what is a direct result of “direct-to-consumer advertising”.


Meredith et al, (2002) study makes an interesting read, and I agree that with any product advertised could predict an increase in popularity; thus increasing revenue. However the figures; only taken from television and radio advertisements, are not a true reflection of the population as a whole; with mediums such as Internet advertisements, including statements from program sponsorships; all which have been excluded within these figures.


With the Internet plat-forming over other types of media in recent years, it is an almost certainty that products advertised and sold in this way should also be included within these figures; although limited to collect data directly through the manufacturers, to ensure true qualitative data is extracted from their internet sales.

A report written in 1998 showed advertising revenue to increase from $312 million, in contrasts to $38.1 billion through television, and an increase in 1997 to $906.5 million, with forecasts to grow to 170 million by 2000. (Dreze & Zufryden, 1998). The actual increase in 2000 was $2.1 billion to $5.9 billion we saw in 2008. (Aaron, 2008). Growth that was clearly underestimated by Dreze & Zufryden in 1998.


These figures of Internet growth sales (Aaron, 2008) provide sufficient evidence that all Internet sales have increased as a direct result of Internet advertising, and not isolated to pharmaceutical drugs alone. The assumption that the increase rise in pharmaceutical drug sales is due to advertising; is a fair assumption, but the data collected within Meredith et al, (2002) original study is not broad enough to show a true refection on the population, as platforms such as sales from the Internet have not been included.


Other assumptions for the increase could be down the accessibility of these prescription drugs to the consumer, and the increased numbers of those who misuse the drug. “Prescription drugs are easy to obtain, especially from family or friends, and they are viewed as “legal,” less shameful to use, and safer than illegal drugs which are more likely to be purchased from street dealers (PATS, CEWG). “ (Maxwell, 2006).


With increased availability comes the increased numbers of those who misuse, reporting a 200,000k  rise in deaths, since 1983-2004 that are within the home. Accidental errors for using legal drugs at homes have increased by 560% (drugs obtained from avenues other than healthcare professionals), this compared to those who have been prescribed by Clinics; which only report 5% increase, shows a substantial significance in availability. Perhaps the increase is down to the accessibility of the drug, rather than advertising alone, but largely down to the avenues people are willing to go down, to gain access to these drugs.




Aaron, M. (2008). Internet Advertising Revenues in Q3 ’08 at Nearly $5.9 Billion. NEW YORK, NY. Retrieved from

Dreze & Zufryden, (1998). Is Internet Advertising ready For Prime Time? Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Maxwell, C. J. (2006). Trends in the Abuse of Prescription Drugs. The Gulf Coast Addiction Technology Transfer Center The University of Texas at Austin.  Retrieved from

Nicholson, C. (2008). A study shows prescription OD accidents are on the rise. Scientific American. Retrieved from


One thought on “Advertising Vs Addiction in the fight against pharmaceutical drugs

  1. This is a very interesting topic and I believe a growing concern for developed countries. However a lot of your research is based on the US where the epidemic seems more prominent than here in the UK, I wonder whether this is due to the stricter guidelines our GP’s use in prescribing medication, also advertising rules for prescription drugs are very different in the UK than the US.

    There are also issues with the methodology in experiments regarding the misuse of prescription medication. The classification of what ‘misuse’ actually means is not defined therefore making the results obtained hard to generalise.

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