Unprompted: The New Drug, Same as the Old Drug 

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I watch “NBC Nightly News” because I want reporters to tell me what to think. But often I switch to CBS or ABC so I can get the same news and instructions from different reporters on what to think.

I could just get my news from the newspaper. But while that’s the most reliable, it can be slow. Sometimes our delivery person sleeps in. And I want my news on demand.

Of course the newspaper too has succumbed to junk. It includes ridiculous ads for miracle cures that nobody has ever heard of, much less verified. That shades my opinion of the paper itself, though I understand the need to print it. The paper, like the television networks, has to make money.

But forget the news for a moment. Television commercials have become so awful that they demand attention. I don’t mean local commercials — they’ve always been awful. I mean the high-dollar stuff, the ads featured on the national news. The ones that picture us as we want to be, frolicking along a mountain trail, paddling a canoe on a beautiful lake with mountains in the background, pictorially pleasant images to sneak in a philological message that everything’s going to be OK if we take the right meds. Everybody is smiling.

The commercial breaks are almost totally owned by pharmaceutical companies. At some point the drugmakers concluded that doctors needed their help. They decided that patients should tell their doctors what medicines to prescribe. The patient is suddenly in the position of going to the doctor and saying something like, “Guess what I just learned on TV?”

This is medical madness! But it must work because drug companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the ads — money ultimately paid by whom, do you think?

So who is the audience? Mostly old people like me. The audience for national news on television skews very old. Young people are doing something else. Tweeting, perhaps. Snap chatting?

Because we evening news viewers are in our declining years, there’s something wrong with almost all of us. That’s why we have this nightly assault of stupid ads for medicines to deal with maladies most of us never heard of. What’s one to do if he or she suffers from restless leg syndrome or dry mouth? Well, tune into the news tonight to find out.

The most graphic ad is the medicine to help with shingles. Shingles is a really bad problem. It is very painful, and there’s no way of knowing if you’re going to get it. But the ads suggest that, because you’re old, you probably will. There’s a full-screen picture of a really bad case of shingles that screams: For God’s sake, don’t let this happen to you! Take our magic potion to avoid this physical disaster.

Well maybe. The medicine, if you read the small print, which is hard to do on television, doesn’t promise to prevent shingles. It says it may lessen the severity. In other words it may lessen the severity of something that most probably won’t happen. Tell your doctor, please, so he can write the prescription.

All of the drug ads say: Ask your doctor or tell your doctor, or something similar, so that when whatever you start taking kills you there will be someone else to blame. Kill you? Yes. Listen to the disclaimers that take more time than the slickly produced ad itself. Almost all of them list a litany of horrible things that may happen if you take this medicine, the most troublesome of which is death. They are very specific. Some even say don’t take this medicine if you are allergic to it. Well I guess that about covers it. Duh.

Diabetics are especially targeted in some of these ads. Our medicine is better than Metformin, it may kill your ass but it’s worth the risk, at least for us it is. As a diabetic I pay attention to the diabetic ads. The disclaimers especially. They promise that while this new medicine may help me, I need to be careful because it may be the last medicine I take. But if that happens, please blame my doctor because she went along with it, and gave me what I wanted.

Have we lost our minds? S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor, who retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.

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