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Announcing The Bitter Pill Awards

January 25th, 2006

Dr Petra

Nominations are invited for the 2006 Bitter Pill Awards.

As regular readers will know I’m concerned about how the pharmaceutical industry medicalises sexual functioning, so I’ll be thinking about making a few nominations.

If you’re interested, here’s more information about the awards which will be announced on the 26 April 2006.

Every year the Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) Project hosts the annual Bitter Pill Awards to call attention to the problems caused by runaway advertising of prescription drugs. The pharmaceutical industry spends over $4.2 billion a year on prescription drug ads on TV, radio, the Internet, newspapers and magazines. The Bitter Pill Awards poke fun at these ads while exposing the serious harm they cause — to patients’ health, to runaway drug prices, to the doctor-patient relationship, and to the health care system.

The 2nd Annual Bitter Pill Awards will distribute “honors” to those drug companies who have engaged in some of the most outrageous or egregious ad campaigns in the past year. You can help by spreading the word and by nominating a drug or company for an award.

A few categories and winners from the 2005 Bitter Pill Awards include:
· Speak No Evil Award: For Concealing Drug Risks and Benefits in the Name of Profits

– Winners: Merck, makers of Vioxx, and Pfizer, makers of Celebrex
· Least Extreme Makeover Award: For Dressing Up an Old Drug with a New Name and a New Price Tag
– Winner: AstraZeneca, the maker of Nexium
· Cure for the Human Condition Award: For Hawking Pills to Treat the Trials of Everyday Life
– Winner: GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil

Here’s my favourite category from 2005:
The Performance Anxiety Award: For Exploiting Male Fears of Inadequacy

When people think of Direct to Consumer Advertising, drugs for Erectile Dysfunction immediately come to mind. The introduction of Viagra in 1998 ushered in a new era of sexually suggestive advertising. For a small minority of patients, these drugs are medically necessary and important, but the manufacturers have promoted these drugs to a much wider audience, almost as a recreational drug. What began as a clinically-oriented approach featuring Bob Dole has given way to racy and bawdy ads delivered with a wink and a nudge. Drugs for erectile dysfunction are big business, racking up $1.3 billion in sales in 2004.

There are three of these drugs on the Market:

- Viagra, with $999 million in 2004 sales.

- Cialis, with $191 million in 2004 sales.

- Levitra, with $128 million in 2004 sales.

Advertisements for these drugs have sought to expand their market beyond those who genuinely need them by tapping into men’s inner most anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, and fears.

- Pfizer ran ads for Viagra in 2004 that featured the drug”s blue “V” logo as devilish horns behind a man’s head, with statements like “Remember that guy who used to be called `Wild Thing?’ The guy who wanted to spend the entire honeymoon indoors? Remember the one who couldn’t resist a little mischief? Yeah, that guy. He’s back.” The ads were suggestive enough that the FDA issued one of its rare enforcement letters, asking Pfizer to stop running the ads.

- Advertising for Levitra connects the drug to football, perhaps to build on the virile image of football players. Using sexually suggestive imagery, the TV ads featured a man throwing a football through a tire swing. Levitra is a key sponsor of the NFL, including tie-ins such as the “Levitra play of the week.” Famed football coach Mike Ditka is now a Levitra spokesman.

- Ads for Cialis feature couples relaxing in twin bathtubs, hammocks, and the like, with taglines such as “If a relaxing moment turns into the right moment, will you be ready?” Not to be outdone in making the sports connection, Cialis is a sponsor of the PGA Tour and Bass Fishing events such as the Bassmaster Classic.

What ads for these drugs have in common is they all play on male fears of impotence, and by association, with masculinity and virility. No longer do they seem to focus on Erectile Dysfunction as a medical condition, but instead on sexual desire, potency and “mischievousness.” These ads help demonstrate the misplaced priorities of the drug industry as a whole. In a time when there are not enough companies making flu vaccine because it is not sufficiently profitable, the drug industry is focusing more on “lifestyle” drugs than on life-saving drugs.

The Performance Anxiety Award for For Exploiting Male Fears of Inadequacy is a three-way tie, going to the makers of Viagra, Levitra and Cialis.

This year we are accepting nominations for prescription drugs and/or the companies who produce the drugs. Please visit Bitter Pill Awards to fill out a nomination form. You can also sign up to receive email updates to get the latest news about the Bitter Pill Awards.

Help others promote the Bitter Pill Awards!! Forward this along to any colleagues, friends, message boards, or blogs. If you have a web site, place a hyperlink to the Bitter Pill site.

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