‘Twas the night before Christmas…and drug marketing’s in high gear

…And all through the town not a creature was stirring except for some struggling to stay awake throughout the night shift….

So reads a newspaper ad for a federally-controlled substance in prescription drug form that is marketed for ES caused by SWD or OSA.

Don’t know what that means?

Come on.  Where have you been?

Like ED for erectile dysfunction, PE for premature ejaculation, and GERD for gastrointestinal reflux disorder, these are the new marketing names for conditions that drug companies want to sell you drugs for.

ES = excessive sleepiness

SWD = shift work disorder

OSA = obstructive sleep apnea

The drug company’s online ads feature a fireman, a police officer, a construction worker.  I am very sensitive to the demands of such night shift workers.  I’m married to a nurse who has worked every shift, every holiday, every imaginable hour – all in the service of other people.  So I am not questioning the very real problems encountered by some people in these work situations.

I’m simply shining a light on classic drug marketing efforts.

The drug website asks visitors to answer just 3 questions “to help your doctor understand whether you could be suffering from ES due to SWD” —

  1. Do you work shifts or a non-traditional work schedule? (I’m visiting my daughter, who has a newborn.  She and her husband work.  Does this qualify as a yes?  If so, how many Americans are in the same situation?)
  2. Are you tired or sleepy when you need to be awake? (I am right now. How many other people would say the same at the end of a long day at the end of a long year?)
  3. Is your work, home or social life negatively affected? (Duh.)

The website urges visitors to print the results of this “report” along with your “first prescription free” offer and take it or email it to your doctor.  (I bet docs just love getting these emails.)

Please note the information provided on the Nuvigil website:

NUVIGIL may cause serious side effects including a serious rash or a serious allergic reaction that may affect parts of your body such as your liver or blood cells, and may result in hospitalization and be life-threatening.

What are possible side effects of NUVIGIL?

  • Stop taking NUVIGIL and call your doctor or get emergency help if you get any of the following serious side effects:
    • Mental (psychiatric) symptoms, including: depression, feeling anxious, sensing things that are not really there, extreme increase in activity (mania), thoughts of suicide, aggression, or other mental problems
    • Symptoms of a heart problem, including: chest pain, abnormal heart beat, and trouble breathing

By the way, if you didn’t know the meaning of ES, SWD, OSA, ED, PE, GERD or other spiffy disease acronyms, you must not be watching most network TV news programs, where these drugs are frequently advertised.  But you can bone up and be ready for your next holiday cocktail party discussion of which conditions you have new prescriptions for – by visiting a website that quizzes you to identify 31 disease acronyms in 10 minutes.

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Keith Boone

December 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

Mt personal anti-favorite are the ads for LowT.

Bonnie Nordby

December 31, 2011 at 11:49 am

I remember the days of ads only in some medical journals. I thought jobs for pill sculpters and ad artists would flourish. Remember the V for valium pill design? That woke me up when I saw it. I just read the article “The Power Of Nothing” in the 12/12/11 issue of “The New Yorker” by Michael Specter. It resonated on so many levels for me. I stand in awe. The pace of marketing by pharmaceutical companies and all sortsof other medical procedures and equipment that is out there is so rapid it is impossible to keep up as an individual. In the past I was part of a great little bioethics committee at Marshall Hospital in Placerville, CA. We had a multidisciplinary-community open group who discussed the issue of how to cope with with the earlier growth of direct marketing. I sure miss that group of people. If we are going to get any kind of control on costs and improve outcomes the conversation needs to be continually fascilitated in forums like yours. Thank You.