A long-running Merck ad featured an older woman with this message: "See how beautiful 60 can look? See how invisible osteoporosis can be?" and recommended that women ask their doctors about bone density screening.
As a result, many women started taking Merck's drug Fosamax. But this very drug, (generic name alendronate) turned out to have serious side effects.
Fosamax may cut the risk of hip fracture from 2 percent to 1 percent, but there is also a 1.5 percent risk of suffering an esophageal ulcer. In addition, in a small percentage of women using Fosamax over the long term, the jawbone will start to crumble. And some research now suggests that the type of new bone created by Fosamax is more brittle and more prone to fracturing over time.
But that side of the story takes a while to get through. Meantime the coffers of the drug firm should be overflowing, while many who took the drug might be undergoing some agonizing time.
It is against such regrettable situations, activists are raising their voice. They also point out that FDA regulations are lax in this regard.
Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit women's health advocacy organization, poionts out that the pharmaceutical industry in the US spent much of its $4.2 billion direct-to-consumer advertising budget in 2005 on ads targeting healthy upper-income, middle-aged people.
A common underlying message was this: you appear to be healthy, but a deadly heart attack, hip fracture, or other medical catastrophe could occur at any time. Therefore you should take a prescription drug to prevent such problems.
The over-selling of postmenopausal hormones, supported by the depiction of natural menopause as a hormone deficiency disease, was the forerunner to this type of sales pitch, which now permeates the media.
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