March 18, 2008

The Cost of Drugs: What Pharmaceutical Companies Are Doing to Get You to Buy More

According to a new poll available at the Kaiser Family Foundation, four in 10 Americans — and half of those regularly taking at least one medication — report experiencing at least one of three cost-related concerns in their family:

16 percent say it is a “serious” problem to pay for prescription drugs; 29 percent say they have not filled a prescription in the past two years because of the cost; and 23 percent say they have cut pills in half or skipped doses in order to make a medication last longer. People are most likely to report one of these three issues if they lack drug coverage (52 percent), if they have low incomes (54 percent) or if they take four or more drugs regularly (59 percent).

The poll was conducted by USA Today and public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. In addition to the monetary concerns, the poll also looks at attitudes toward and experiences with prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical industry — including advertisements, safety issues, government regulation and medical research.

USA Today has a good package of survey-related stories and data, including this look at the side effects of drug ads, which notes that “Prescription-drug ads prompt nearly one-third of Americans to ask their doctors about an advertised medicine, and 82% of those who ask say their physicians recommended a prescription.”

“Our survey shows why the drug companies run all these ads: They work,” says Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Foundation. “Many people get drugs they otherwise wouldn’t. While there’s a debate about whether that’s a good thing for patients, it does cost the country more.”

Remarkably, $4.8 billion was spent on drug advertising in 2006, up from $2.6 billion in 2002. Holy “Possible-side- effects-may-include!”

Plus: I heard a great interview with former drug sales rep Shahram Ahari, who testified last week before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging about how the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and doctors compromises the health of patients.

Ahari was a guest on NPR’s “The Story” (excellent program), and he acknowledged that the manipulation he learned to employ with doctors — and got so good at — seeped into his personal life. Scary. Listen to it here.

You can also watch Ahari below show off his “safe cracker” skills — so named because he could talk his way into the offices of doctors who normally kept out drug reps — or read this article he co-authored.

Want to learn more? Check out PharmedOut.org for information on how pharmaceutical companies influence prescribing.


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