Ask your doctor about drug ad spending

Do you have feelings of inadequacy? Do you suffer from shyness?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the benefits of … tequila.

At, you can see this cheeky tequila parody of ubiquitous drug ads, complete with a rapid-fire recitation of side effects that range from dizziness, nausea, incarceration and table dancing to the desire to play naked Twister and sing all-night karaoke.

The satirical video posted by Jonathan in Colorado points directly to a cultural and commercial phenomenon at work in our living rooms and on Capitol Hill. The big drug companies have been increasing their promotional spending: $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005. Those ads we all recognize (“ask your doctor about…”) are known as “direct-to-consumer” or DTC advertising.

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article this month detailing the numbers and documenting the trends. Evidence suggests that the direct-to-consumer advertising increases sales, averts underuse of medicines and leads to potential overuse, the article said.

After the journal article appeared, the federal Food and Drug Administration said it would study what sounds like the obvious: whether the upbeat ads leave people with a positive impression that distracts them from audio warnings about side effects.

On Capitol Hill, there is hope that in the next few weeks the House and Senate will agree on language to give the FDA more tools for enforcement power over problematic advertising. But a major hammer – a moratorium under which companies introducing a new drug couldn’t advertise it for two years – got stripped from FDA legislation. That would have allowed time to see if safety issues arose. But that’s gone.

If regulators find a problem with a drug, they cancel it.

The way it works now, by the time the FDA gets its message across, the drug company has often moved on with a new ad, singing the benefits of yet another drug we should ask our doctors about.

The following editorial appeared Sunday in the Sacramento Bee.