Tag Archives: Big Bad Pharma

5 Ridiculous Big Pharma ads

I have an ongoing peeve that relates to medication and social attitudes surrounding it: often, for some people on various sides of the political spectrum, trashing Big Pharma translates into trashing people who use prescription medications at all, for a variety of health conditions — especially for chronic conditions, both of the mental health and physical varieties. As a woman with multiple disabilities — a few of which require me to be on medications manufactured by Big Pharma (OOOOOH, SCARY) — I am not, how shall I put it, too excited about this. It’s really nice that stereotypical Extremely Naive Hippie Liberals and Rugged, Anti-Government Bootstrapping Conservatives can, theoretically, bond over how much they mutually hate those of us who take medications for legitimate medical reasons — but even those of us who, normally, would like and/or encourage all of this talk about “building alliances across the [political] aisle” have limits.

In short, there are a lot of things for which you can take Big Pharma to task without also treating the people who depend on these medications like total shit. One of these things is advertising and direct-to-consumer marketing, at which Big Pharma seems to be really quite good! And by “good,” I mean totally ridiculous. Let’s take a look at five different ad campaigns that should never have left a pitch meeting, much less been made with gargantuan budgets, professional actors, and voice-overs that calmly inform the viewer/listener of possible side effects.

5. Cialis: Yes, the one with the make-out music in the background and the couple sitting side-by-side in the bathtubs out in a meadow or something. Why is it so difficult for these folks to find a tub big enough to fit them both?

4. Uloric: Granted, this one may not be as ridiculous as some of the others on this list, but the visual of a dude carrying around a giant beaker of green liquid (which looks suspiciously like it should be in some sort of fancy alcoholic drink that costs upwards of $7) is pretty bizarre, as is the voice-over that helpfully informs viewers that side-effects may include flare-ups of the very condition that Uloric is used to treat. This might be the entire point of the ad, though; since Uloric is a medication intended to help with Gout symptoms, wouldn’t it be more accurate to have the guy wear shoes to which giant beakers are attached? Perhaps we could see a live-action depiction of the 16th-century drawing included in the Wikipedia article on Gout, instead of a guy with a big beaker of neon-green energy drink? That would be awesome, and might get the Gout-is-horribly-painful-and-this-medication-could-help message across in a way that actually makes sense.

3. Lyrica: Every time I see this one, I want to yell at the TV, particularly when the one featuring the classy middle-aged lady who bakes bread has somehow made its hellish way into my precious rerun of Dirty Jobs or another show that I don’t like to admit to enjoying. The actress in this ad pronounces “Fibromyalgia” like it’s a seasonal root vegetable or something (like “FYE-bro-MY-al-GEE-AH”) and all I can do is give the television my most hateful death glare. Oh, and even better is when she says that “My doctor diagnosed it as FYE-bro-MY-al-GEE-AH muscle pain,” and I want to scream, “Lady, IF YOU KNEW what fibro was actually like, you would not be saying that. You would probably be in too much pain on some days to do very much.” Or baking loaves of crusty bread en masse, for that matter. As someone who’s dealt with fibro for the past few years of my life, I only wish I had enough energy to bake many loaves of bread, like the woman in this commercial. Sweet, delicious carbs might help my pain, or at least give me something to focus on other than constant pain and fatigue.

2. Cymbalta: My personal favorite moment is when a kid runs up to hug the woman (presumably a relative?) and the camera focuses on her face, and she just looks so sad that the explanation just has to be terrible acting (or depression, according to the good folks at Eli Lilly). Depression’s symptoms are much, much more complex than walking around looking like the emoticon for sadface [🙁], but you wouldn’t know it by watching this commercial. I think someone should make a parody of ads like this, except that some other person approaches the woman, tells her to “Snap out of it,” and then the woman gives that person the finger–or, more accurately, gives them the 😐 face, because that is what certain aspects of depression make you feel like doing. You’re not only sad all of the time, but often you feel too hopeless to respond to people’s asshattery when they feel the need to comment on your depression and/or tell you that you Just Need To Buck Up.

1. Viagra (“Viva Viagra” spot): Truly the stuff of nightmares. The first time I saw this ad, I was awake at 3 or 4 AM due to pain (go figure, right?) and thought I was hallucinating when the opening chords of “Viva Las Vegas” started up in the opening seconds of this ad. I was, at first, confused as to what that particular song had to do with a medication used to treat erectile dysfunction. And then four middle-aged dudes–one playing a guitar–appeared on the screen and started to sing “VIVA VIAGRA!” to the tune of a song that most people associate with Elvis Presley, or any buddy comedy that has some sort of drunken Vegas montage. If you’re sure that this one won’t give you nightmares, I urge you to find it on YouTube, because it must be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, it’s been replaced in recent months with 30 seconds of yet another middle-aged white dude driving a car around in the dark. The penis = car association makes more sense than hanging out with your best buds and singing about Viagra, I suppose, particularly if you know anything about psychoanalysis.

Readers, what are your least favorite Big Pharma ads, and why? Short descriptions (and links to videos, if you have them) can be helpful for people who may have not seen the ads; please include them, if possible, so that we may all share in the unintentional hilarity.

Does Outright Speculation Make This Disabled Feminist Angry?

Answer: Yes.

Let’s talk about this piece-of-crap article recently published on that oh-so-“liberal” news n’ culture site, Salon.com. I’m prefacing this post with a warning for ableist language and concepts on the part of the article’s author, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. The article begins as follows:

There was a time when a celebrity’s sudden death almost invariably meant illegal drugs…[a]nd so it seems with Brittany Murphy, the bubbly and bright actress who died of cardiac arrest at 32.

Yes, it seems. Point is, we don’t know much yet. There are other health-related issues or conditions that can lead to cardiac arrest, but is this acknowledged? Of course not! Parikh continues:

The coroner’s notes allegedly claim a pharmacopia in Murphy’s bathroom cabinet: Topamax (for seizures or migraines), methylprednisolone (a steroid), fluoxetine (an antidepressant), Klonopin (for anxiety), carbamazepine (for seizures or bipolar disorder), Ativan (for anxiety), Vicoprofen (pain reliever), propranolol (for hypertension, migraines or anxiety), Biaxin (an antibiotic), and hydrocodone (a narcotic pain reliever). Gone are the days of shameful crack pipes and empty gin bottles.


Murphy’s medications, like those of [Heath] Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith, are on the shelves of your local drugstore, available with a simple trip to the doctor — or doctors — whom you merely need to convince that you need the stuff. Did one doctor prescribe her those meds? Did 10? We don’t yet know. But as a doctor myself, I just kept wondering (and not for the first time): What if doctors were more like librarians? Would Brittany Murphy still be alive?

Cue scary music! THE DANGER IS ON THE SHELVES OF YOUR LOCAL DRUGSTORE. Nevermind that people with chronic pain conditions and disabilities have to jump through numerous, often ridiculous hoops just to get, say, a month’s supply of medications that help them function and/or live life to the fullest extent possible. As one of these people, I am of the opinion that Parikh is being rather disingenuous here; these drugs, at least for us “average” folk with chronic pain issues, are usually not easy to obtain.

After nattering about how the medical field should follow the example of public libraries when it comes to monitoring people and their books meds, he continues:

One of the many negative consequences of such fragmentation is how ridiculously easy it can be to get drugs. Most doctors know patients who have desperately angled to get a prescription they don’t need, usually highly addictive pain medicines like Percocet or OxyContin. This is what we call “doctor shopping,” hopping from one physician to the next until they find someone willing to write a script. When the supply dries up, they go to another doctor, and then another. One 53-year-old man in California visited 183 doctors and 47 pharmacies in one year to support his addiction to painkillers.

Hey, nice use of anecdata there! What on earth does one 53 year-old guy in California have to do with Brittany Murphy’s situation? As for “most doctors” knowing a patient who has “angled” for meds they “don’t need” (who makes that judgement, I wonder?): cry me a goddamn river. The endless Helen Lovejoy-gasping about ADDICTION!!1 in fact makes it incredibly hard for some of us who need these medications to obtain them, and no amount of 1984-esque War is Peace anecdata–from someone, no less, who is supposed to help people in pain as part of his chosen occupation–is going to change that.

In short, the experiences of people with chronic pain are going be different than those of an able-bodied doctor, but nowhere is this acknowledged in this article–nor is it mentioned in many larger conversations about  painkillers and (possible) ADDICTION!!11.

Most of us who need these medications do not have the energy to doctor-shop. I do not wish to deny that painkiller addiction is a serious problem; it is, for some. Sadly, these sorts of “conversations” on the specter of supposedly widespread PAINKILLER ADDICTION!!!1–much like those focusing on the OBESITY CRISIS!!11–tend to focus entirely too much attention on extreme cases and anecdata, leaving out those who need these medications for legitimate medical reasons, and, I might add, some of whom spend a great portion of time proving said legitimacy in order to show that they are not addicts or doctor-shoppers.

But if “preventing” ADDICTION!11 in able-bodied people via endless hand-wringing about who “really” needs these drugs versus who doesn’t is the number one priority here, that is a problem. Yet again, the needs of those who are judged by society as most “important” or productive or fitting into able-bodied society are taken seriously, and the needs of those who do not fit this mold–because they need painkillers for actual pain and are therefore bad/unproductive/just a bunch of whiners–are ignored, or worse, actively shamed and castigated for things or circumstances that they cannot control.

And, as OuyangDan pointed out so eloquently on this very blog, there are a lot of things that we don’t know about Brittany Murphy’s death. Using her death as a poorly-researched, almost totally speculative “example” of the dangers of painkiller ADDICTION!!11 is not only tasteless, but it distracts from how ridiculously the concerns about painkillers, “legitimacy” and the specter of addiction are often framed by (mostly privileged) people who do not deal with these things in their daily lives.

Less infuriating: Many of the commenters seem to agree that this article and its “speculation” went too far, which is unusual for Salon commenters, as most of them tend to exemplify the worst of privileged white “liberalism” on a regular basis (as you would expect, this includes loads of abled privilege and the anecdata to back up their uninformed opinions).

Invisible Illness and Disability Bingo 1.0

Author’s note: This is a revised version of a bingo card that I made some time ago.

While I don’t feel like I should be required to justify the lowermost right square, there was some confusion and pretty ooky pushback when I posted version 1 on my own blog. I’ll explain that square anyway, for CMA purposes: I am aware that pot works for many people with chronic pain, and personally have no issue if people other than myself use it. I’m an advocate of finding what works for you; whether it’s a pill, plant, pilates-esque routine, or something else, your course of pain management should be your choice.

What I am referring to with this bingo card — as a whole — is the commonplace, rather irritating tendency of some able-bodied people to suggest — without knowing about the medical history of (or, indeed, much about) the person they are “trying to help” — remedies or treatments that may be totally inappropriate for that person, due to various (personal) reasons. In short, what works for you may not work for me, and vice versa; how I wish I could have articulated this to the folks who have “helpfully suggested” that I smoke pot or obtain other illegal “meds” to help with my pain!

Okay, explanatory note/rant over. Onto the bingo card! I hope you all have your chips ready.

Special thanks to Ouyang for suggesting the “Diet and Exercise!!1” free space.


Text translation: card has white text on a black background. Title (in white) reads, “annaham presents: Invisible Illness Bingo 1.0,” followed by “Now With Straighter Lines” in red:

First Row, Square #1: All that’s keeping you from being healthy is a positive attitude!

First Row, Square #2: My ex/friend/co-worker had that, but he/she was just a hypochondriac.

First Row, Square #3: Maybe if you lost weight/found a man/read The Secret, your problems would be solved.

First Row, Square #4: Why can’t you just suck it up, get out of bed, and find a job like the rest of us?

Second Row, Square #1: Lucky! You get to stay in bed all day.

Second Row, Square #2 (middle square): Free Space/DIET AND EXERCISE!!!11

Second Row, Square #3: You don’t look sick/you’re just complaining too much

Third Row, Square #1: Obviously, you get something out of being sick. Otherwise, you’d get better!

Third Row, Square #2: If I haven’t heard of it, then it doesn’t exist.

Third Row, Square #3: But I went through hard times too, and I got through it. Let’s talk about what a great person I am.

Third Row, Square #4: You have it so much better than some people! Think of the starving children in Africa…

Fourth Row, Square #1: Let go and let God/Power of prayer/God is punishing you

Fourth Row, Square #2: You just want an excuse to be lazy and have people pity you.

Fourth Row, Square #3: Why haven’t you tried crystals/vitamins/other dubious “cure”? IT REALLY WORKS!!!

Fourth Row, Square #4: Smoke pot/take illegal drugs. It will totally take care of your pain, man!

Also posted at Ham.Blog

Depending on narcotics

IMG_0172I take six medications. Five of them — the antiepileptic, the antidepressant, the non-narcotic pain killer, the muscle relaxer, and the oral contraceptive — are covered through a mail-order service. I receive a 90-day supply in my mail box every three months. No hassle. If a prescription runs out, my doctor is notified electronically, he then sends the new script electronically, and everything proceeds as normal with absolutely no additional step required of me. The only thing I do is click on the check-out button on the web site every three months. That’s it. No calling. No physical piece of paper to pick up. No wait at a retail pharmacy. Just a click and several days’ wait.

There’s one other medication I take. That medication serves the exact same purpose as all five others: it relieves my pain so that I can get on with my daily functions. I take it regularly, just like all five others. I have been taking it regularly for over five years now for the same reason. But this medication is not covered by the mail order service, because it is not considered a “maintenance medication” — despite that it fills the exact same maintenance role all five others fill, just by a different mechanism.

So for this medication, I am only allowed a 30-day supply at a time, and no refills — a brand new script each fill, which requires my doctor’s input each time. I have to call my doctor no sooner than the exact day it was filled last month, unless it falls on a weekend in which case I might get away with calling up to 2 days early. Then I have to call back a couple days later to see if the script has been written. If it has, it is printed out, and I have to physically walk in to the office, stand in line to see a receptionist, have them take a copy of the script with my photo ID, sign and date the copy, and walk out with the script. Then I have to physically take it into a retail pharmacy, wait in line, hand it to the pharmacy technician, then wait the required time for it to be filled. If there are no problems with my insurance, I then must physically present myself and pay for the prescription. Then I can walk out the door with my medication.

(And this is the process with a doctor who’s relatively friendly about the matter.)

It is quite a different process and one overflowing with “veto points” — points at which any party involved can cause any sort of problem and stop the whole process up. Maybe my doctor is on vacation and won’t be back for two weeks. He is the only one in my clinic who will write this script. I can’t call earlier in anticipation of his absence; they will not write the script before the last runs out. In that case, I’m stuck until he comes back. Maybe the system spits out some sort of error, like the one I received today: I was told the script must be written by my original prescriber. Which is this doctor. So now they have to go back and ask for the script all over again, and he isn’t in til tomorrow, and it’s not guaranteed to go through smoothly then. There have been other errors.

Maybe the insurance says no. For any number of reasons; I’ve dealt with prior authorization errors, quantity limit errors, errors because my insurance has suddenly decided to list me as living in an assisted-living home and cannot fill a prescription if I am. Maybe the pharmacy hits a snag, like the time they would not fill a written prescription until 2 a.m. that night because the insurance company said so, even if we paid out of pocket without billing the insurance.

And I’m going to keep running into these issues, and I will run into new errors every few months. I may have solved the last problem, but there’s always something new to pop up. I can never rely on this medication being filled on-time. It simply does not happen the majority of the time. No matter how diligent I am, how patient I am, how clearly and politely I explain myself — or how despondent I get, how emotional I get when telling them but I cannot work without this medication, and I don’t have leave on this job, and I can’t afford to be fired for missing work. Or whatever other pickle I’m in at the moment. It doesn’t matter. I do everything right and there will still be regular problems in getting my medication filled on time.

I’m sure, by now, you’ve figured out that this particular medication is a narcotic pain killer — hydrocodone (generic for Vicodin). I take it for chronic pain. I have been taking it for over five years this way, with the doses varying between one-and-a-half per day and three per day. And the only medical trouble I have ever had on it is when there was an excessive delay in refill during a bad pain flare and I got to go through the withdrawal for two weeks. (And I can tell you from experience: hydrocodone withdrawal is nothing compared to Effexor withdrawal.)

Narcotic pain killers can be a valid option for chronic pain patients. They fill a void left by other treatments which still aren’t effective enough to address our symptoms, which can easily be disabling. As you can see, I take plenty of other medications. But if I want to be able to get up and do something, I still need the pain relief the hydrocodone provides. So I take it. Because I like to be able to get up and do things. Like make the bed in the morning and feed the cats and make myself lunch and possibly run errands. Or — you know — work. Those silly sorts of things.

Here’s the thing, though. In both common culture and the medical industry, chronic pain patients who take these medications to be able to perform everyday, ordinary tasks that currently-able people take for granted — like bathing or showering or washing dishes or dropping their kids off at school — are still constructed as an addict just looking to get high.

You could almost kind of expect that for the narcotics. Most people do not understand the distinction between addiction and dependence. (Which is, basically, the distinction between taking a medication for a medical purpose so that you can go on living your everyday life, vs. taking a medication when you have no medical need so that you can escape from your everyday life.) This distinction exists for a reason; developing a tolerance for a medication is not a bad thing in and of itself, and must be weighed against the benefits that medications brings to the person.

Addiction calls to mind, though, a life being torn down. Addiction calls to mind a person who is seeing the detriment of a drug outweighing the benefit. A person whose life is falling apart because of the drug.

A chronic pain patient taking a narcotic pain killer under the close supervision and guidance of a knowledgeable doctor is exactly the opposite: sie is a person whose life is coming back together because of the drug.

But this image is not easily shaken in people’s minds. And so the chronic pain patient is reimagined as the addict. Hir behaviors are twisted to fit the common conception of the addict. If sie ever lets out a drop of disappointment at having problems with accessing this medication which is helping to put hir life back together — that is seen as drug-seeking behavior. And if sie lets out any sort of relief at the feeling sie experiences after taking the pill and having the crushing weight lifted from hir muscles — that is seen as “getting a high.” Heaven forbid sie show any emotion beyond just relief — like perhaps pleasure or happiness — at being able to perform everyday functions again. And any moodiness or other undesirable behavior can be easily attributed to hir “addiction.”

What’s strange, I notice, is that this reimagining is applied not only to chronic pain patients who take narcotics — but to any chronic pain patients who takes any pain relieving drug.

Take, for example, the anti-epileptic I take. It is not a narcotic. It cannot be abused — that is, if you do not have a neurological pain disorder, it will not do anything for you. You can’t use it to get high, get low, or get anything — except a couple hundred dollars poorer every month.

The only way this pill does anything for you is if you have some sort of nerve problem. And even then, the effect isn’t a “high.” Rather, it levels your pain threshhold — brings it closer to “normal.” No artificial mood effects, no giddiness, no lift. Just level.

And I still see this medication treated very similarly. Patients who take it are described in the same terms you would describe a drug addict.

And it’s just one of many. Any drug that relieves pain for a person with chronic pain will be painted in the same strokes.

At issue, here, is the conventional wisdom that our pain is imagined, that it has no real basis, or even then that it isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. That is the belief that feeds this twisted construction.

Because if you are imagining your pain, there is nothing legitimate you could be getting out of that drug. And if you aren’t getting anything legitimate out of it, but you’re still taking it — and getting upset when you don’t have it — well, that’s classic addict behavior, isn’t it?

If our pain were recognized as real and legitimate — if those messed-up-in-so-many-ways Lyrica commercials didn’t start out with “My fibromyalgia pain is real!” — this wouldn’t happen as much. Because if our pain is real and legitimate, then it is real and legitimate to seek relief for it.

(Of course, that assumes that pharmaceuticals are accepted as a real and legitimate way to relieve that pain.)

But people are going to have trouble with that. They don’t want to accept our pain. They don’t want to admit that it is real. They want to keep believing that it must be imagined. Because then, they can comfort themselves, in that murky area beneath our conscious thought, that they would never end up in our situation. They could never end up with any sort of medical condition. And if they did, well, they know how to do everything right, so they would never be affected by it.

This is why they scoff at our assertions that our experiences are real. This is why our conditions are jokes to a great many people. This is why “fibromyalgia is bullshit” has been the leading search term to my blog. This is why they seek so desperately to deny that these drugs — any drug — could be having a legitimate effect on us. This is why they treat us like addicts. Because they can see how we might reasonably be having real pain, and they can see how these drugs might reasonably be legitimately relieving it, and they can see how we might reasonably be upset if we are consistently denied access to the one thing that allows us to live our lives the way we want to.

And if all that is reasonable, then — shit — they could wind up in the same place someday. And none of their can-do bootstrap individual determination could magically get them out of it.

Addicts we are, then.