A Discussion; Prescription Drug Ads Skyrocket In Recent Years

Aisha K. Staggers
3 min readJan 28, 2019


Consumer News

By Aisha K. Staggers on January 28, 2019

Prescription Drug Ads Skyrocket

While there are significant attention and resources dedicated to solving the opioid crisis, many Americans are finding themselves struggling to pay for their necessary prescription drugs like insulin and blood pressure lowering medications. As the cost of prescription drugs has been on the rise, so too has the number of advertisements. According to a study by Dartmouth University, Direct-to-Consumer drug advertising accounted for 32% ($9.6 billion) in medical marketing spending in 2016. The number of prescription drug ads skyrocketed 5,722%, from 79,000 to a whopping 4.6 million.

The Cost of Prescription Medication

Though the majority of advertising budgets were earmarked for marketing to medical professionals, a large portion of medical advertisement budgets was for disease and health awareness ads. Spending in this area more than doubled from $177 million in 1997 to $430 million in 2016. These campaigns primarily focused on public health concerns like smoking and developing healthy behaviors, preventing heart attacks and stroke, symptom diagnosis, mental health issues, and other less critical conditions like erectile dysfunction and chronic dry eye. Consumer ads for cholesterol-lowering lowering drugs, and osteoporosis medications, however, saw a decline over the same period.

The amount of money spent on medical advertising and the cost of prescription drugs has increased simultaneously. This will likely continue, but consumers may soon find the ads they see on television and in magazines will begin displaying the cost of each medication along with the benefits and side effects — a full disclosure this industry hasn’t seen before. New legislation has been proposed that will require pharmaceutical companies to display the costs of medications in their advertising as a part of the “truth in advertising” initiative.

If you think this will impact consumer behavior or how pharmaceutical companies advertise, think again. In a JAMA Internal Medicine study published January 22, 2019, researchers concluded such a law wouldn’t have any effect on the market or how pharmaceutical companies advertised their products. According to Clemson University Assistant Professor of Accounting and lead researcher on the JAMA study, Jace Garrett, “In a world where coupon programs exist, consumers are unlikely to be influenced by price disclosures.” In fact, some speculate that consumers would rather know in advance what their medications cost and have the information necessary to discuss and explore affordable medical options with their doctors.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any reduction in advertising dollars spent on this form of medical advertising in 2019, there is one form that may decline,if the FDA has its way, because of the health risk: e-cigarettes. Marketed as an alternative to cigarettes and tobacco products, e-cigarette use has surged among teens who erroneously believe “vaping” is safer than smoking. After a series of hearings over the last few weeks on the dangers of smoking, e-cigarettes may face certain extinction as advertising to curb their use among teenagers isn’t working. “If the youth use continues to rise, and we see significant increases in use in 2019, on top of what we found in 2018, I believe this entire category will face an existential threat,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD as the hearings came to a close. E-cigarettes could be removed from the market or significantly restricted in availability as early as this time next advertised.

About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, and co-host and producer of “All Our Own” radio show and podcast and co-host of “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been featured on MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!

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Originally published at https://considertheconsumer.com on January 28, 2019.



Aisha K. Staggers

Mother. Fisk Alum. Prince Enthusiast. Occasionally, I write some stuff! Catch me on "State of Things with Aisha, Jill & LaLa" on The Dr. Vibe Show on YouTube