Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Advertising & The Physician-Patient Relationship, Part II: Pharmaceutical Advertising

A couple of years ago, I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt. One of his significant areas of research involves analyzing how pharmaceutical advertising of the nineteenth century has influenced patient care by exploiting gender- and race-based stereotypes that persist in American culture as a whole. Dr. Metzl convincingly argues that pharmaceutical ads “posit prescription medications as treatments for ‘social’ problems as well as medical ones.”

For example, marketing campaigns for antidepressants, particularly Prozac (fluoxetine), throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century often capitalized on society’s perception of women as moody and irrational. Additionally, ads specifically targeting women suggested, either directly or indirectly, that taking Prozac could help them remain “youthful and attractive” by taking “just a couple at bedtime.” Shudder.

Equally shudder-inducing were the racially-charged Haldol (haloperidol) ads that appeared in psychiatric journals during the 1960s-70s, at which time the Black Power movement was much in the public eye. Dr. Arturo Baiocchi explains it best: “The ad compels psychiatrists to conflate black anger as a form of threatening psychosis and mental illness.”

It is misleading and unjust for pharmaceutical ads to conflate social stereotypes with a medical issue that requires therapeutic intervention. Although the ads pictured above would never be permitted in the current age, Dr. Metzl suggests that physicians should be acutely aware of modern social tensions in order to guard against being unduly influenced by pharmaceutical ads that may be designed to appeal to social prejudices.

http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.mtsu.edu/science/article/pii/S0277953603003691 (not open access, unfortunately, but accessible through the MTSU library website)


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  2. I had no idea that Prozac (or its precursor) had been around so long. "Youthful and attractive" - !

  3. I think all this comes down to greed and a thinking of "this could never happen to me or my own loved ones." They enjoy getting money if it means exploiting strangers. It's much harder to do this sort of thing to friends and family. You know they still do this in magazines - not with medical drugs, but with other drugs such as nicotine? For example, certain cigarettes such as Newport are advertised in magazines targeted towards African Americans. "Skinny" pills are put in magazines for women, too.