Perhaps this is obvious, but drug ads are not intended to inform you about the best way to treat a condition you may have. Their primary purpose is to sell a product, as explained in an earlier blog on direct-to-consumer drug ads. And the newest drugs tend to be the most expensive, even though some aren’t much better than older drugs.
So the ads you see for medications are usually not promoting the latest and greatest as much as they are promoting the newest and most expensive. And these ads vary widely in how much accurate, useful information is included and what information is left out. A recent ad for Xeljanz (tofacitinib) is a good example.
A woman is awakened by her son, who is carrying a toy dinosaur. She gives him breakfast, he straps on his dinosaur backpack, and they happily head out the door together. We see them arrive by school bus with his classmates at a museum’s dinosaur exhibit.
The first words you hear in this ad is the tagline, “Mornings were made for better things than rheumatoid arthritis.” I think we can all agree that this is true. But why is this a selling point?
Well, a prominent feature of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is morning stiffness. People with rheumatoid arthritis are usually much worse in the morning, struggling with an hour or more of stiffness before their joints loosen up. And in this ad, you’ve just seen the main character, a mom who presumably has RA, hop out of bed, full of energy, ready for the day.
This particular ad follows a familiar sequence by
Odd phrasing is often heard in direct-to-consumer marketing, and seems meant to deflect blame from the drug: according to the ad, cancers, including lymphoma, “have happened.” That might leave you wondering whether these cancers just “happened” while people took the drug, or if they were actually due to the drug?” The ad leaves that question unanswered.
Even as the trip to the dinosaur museum begins, words appear on the screen to sing the praises of this medication:
The students pose in front of dinosaur skeletons while the mom takes photos. The voiceover returns to the morning theme: “Don’t let another morning go by without asking your doctor about the pill first prescribed for RA more than seven years ago.” That last part is there to remind us that although Xeljanz is a relatively new drug, it’s not brand new. The longer the track record, the less likely that new side effects will be discovered.
This ad gets a lot right about rheumatoid arthritis:
But, as in most ads, some facts go unmentioned. For example, Xeljanz is expensive (in the range of $4,900/month, although insurance coverage and discounts vary). Also, there are more than a dozen other highly effective treatments, some of which may be even more effective and less costly for you.
So, the next time a drug ad interrupts whatever you’re watching or reading, keep in mind that while the ad may be accurate, it may not be complete. As they say in the ads, if you think this product might be right for you, ask your doctor. But a word to the wise: the answer may be “it’s not.” If your doctor thinks a drug is right for you, chances are good they’d have already prescribed it.
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The post Harvard Health Ad Watch: Can an arthritis drug help you become a morning person? appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.