A Washington Drug Bust

The drug companies help pay my salary. Not directly, of course (although I bet there are conspiracy theorists out there who are probably convinced they do), but they undoubtedly contribute a sizeable amount of advertising dollars to the company I work for.

Before writing this blog entry I randomly picked an "NBC Nightly News" broadcast to see just how many drug commercials appeared in the half-hour program. There was a spot for Allergan's eye drug Restasis, Sally Field doing her thing for the osteoporosis drug Boniva from Roche and GlaxoSmithKline and a quick ad for the allergy nasal spray Omnaris sold by Sepracor.

But that was just the stuff that requires a prescription. Johnson and Johnson bought a commercial for Tylenol, Novartis did the same for Excedrin and GSK also sponsored a special segment on the newscast.

And there are anecdotal indications the airwaves could become even more crowded with DTC commercials. On Eli Lilly's earnings conference call last week one exec said, "We were not fully on-air in the first half (of the year.)" LLY, by the way, makes the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis.

Yes, the ubiquitous commercials and ads drive patients and comedians to talk about the drugs. Yes, they probably help product sales. But I'm guessing the ads are more important to the media outlets than they are to the pharmaceutical companies.

"The New York Times" today talks about the renewed effort in Washington to go after direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising. I think it's a bunch of sabre rattling. I mean, do you really think that when so many media companies and newspaper/magazine publishers, in particular, are struggling mightily that their DC lobbyists are gonna let it happen? I don't think so. And you know the influential drug industry lobbyists are gonna be standing right behind the media guys.


I do think it might make some sense to restrict the impotence drug ads to certain hours. But then, where do you draw the line on subjective sensitive topics/products? For example, it's okay to advertise feminine hygiene products at all hours of the day and those, I'm sure, can also cause red-faces and awkward conversations in family rooms everywhere.

While drug spots sometimes seem to go on forever, especially when they're stacked in a commercial break back-to-back-to-back, I often find them a source of amusement in terms of how they get the actors, pitchpeople or voice-over artists to "naturally" rattle off the side effects. Some of the ads are just downright cheesy. But if I know what's good for me maybe I shouldn't be too critical.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman