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Pain Medication Marketing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It seems like every month a new pain medication is brought to market. No matter the medication, it always seems to have a laundry list of side effects and a heaping dose of fear-based, “don’t-miss-out” advertising campaigns. Anyone who has been in the U.S. healthcare system understands drug prices are extraordinarily high, and the costs far exceed those in other countries. Why?!

In this blog article, I am going to tell you more about Big Pharma’s excessive profits and discuss how their marketing communications create a sense of dependency while poking at the fear of missing out. Before getting into the profits, however, it’s important to understand what I mean by marketing.  There are four Ps to bringing a new drug to market:

  1. Develop a product
  2. Create a pricing strategy
  3. Determine placement in the market
  4. Promote it to the public

Many often think of marketing in terms of the fourth P – promotion, and that’s because we’re bombarded with advertisements every day; however, that’s really the last part of marketing. There are three other steps to bring a new drug to the market. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the previous few decades is an exponential growth in medications and a decline in public health. The amount of money put into what Big Pharma calls “innovation research” is astronomical and reflected in pricing strategies, which are placed heavily on the backs of chronically ill Americans who are being maintained in illness.

Follow the Money: Big Pharma Profits

In an original investigation from JAMA in 2020, researchers found that the cost of medications for Americans is as much as 190% higher than in nine other high-income countries. That’s because those other countries have regulations on drug pricing, while America does not.

Let’s examine personal relationships for a moment. Modern medical professionals partner with pharmaceutical companies to prescribe drugs that treat a variety of symptoms for a seemingly endless list of diseases. While there are laws to monitor how Big Pharma spends money, it’s not illegal to pay doctors who will help them research and promote their drugs. According to Pew Research, 74% of Americans have an overall positive view of their doctor, with 90% believing their doctor cares about them. A high level of trust and reverence is awarded to doctors, and science is deemed an honorable field.

Now we have a scientific, profit-geared relationship between the doctor and the pharmaceutical company with a trusting and emotional connection between the doctor and the patient. To me, that sounds like a disastrous recipe for your pocketbook.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Pain Medication Marketing

The advancement of medical science is vital for the growth and development of humanity; however, when profits are the driving force behind the innovation, we defeat the purpose. There is one good thing that comes out of pain medication marketing:  the regulations that govern what the patient – or potential patient – must know about the drug. For example, advertisements must indicate the purpose of the drug, along with contraindications and side effects. Companies are required to inform consumers at all levels of the process – in the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy, and in the comfort of your home. Here’s an example:

That’s about the extent of the good. The bad things pile up quickly, but here are just a few:

  • Government and pharmaceutical companies continue to downplay the dependency factor of pain medications.
  • Side effects are also downplayed by companies and treating physicians, especially when patients are on a variety of other medications.
  • The FDA – the government body that gives the formal nod of approval for drugs to go to market – was created by the same “doctors” of the 19th century. They intentionally suffocated natural medicine in favor of experimentation on the human body (see the book, For Her Own Good for more information on this topic). They have a vested interest in this form of “science.”
  • There is too little research on synthetic drugs, and that means the list of side effects is overgeneralized and incomplete.
  • Every new drug comes with a 20-year non-compete. That means generic drug companies cannot manufacture a cheaper version of the drug until the original creator has made their money. Competition in a free market keeps prices low, and this 20-year protection has continued to lead to the development of dangerous medications and exorbitant profits.
  • Advertising campaigns try to make viewers feel like they’re missing out on something important. They poke at our need to feel better the same way a domestic abuser blames the victim. Take the “I am here” campaign from Amgen for the drug, Aimovig. It touches on emotional needs and tries to convince you the drug will help you achieve those goals.

The ugly truth is that Big Pharma is making you, the everyday American with a painful condition, pay for ill health by making it seem like you need this medication or that one to feel better. They are draining your bank account while filling up their coffers. I would argue that Big Pharma and their partnering medical professionals are creating diseases they can treat with more drugs.

There is a great need for healthcare reform in this country, but not in the sense of money alone. We need to reform the meaning of health care and stop perpetuating the system of sick care. This is one of the biggest reasons I have focused my doctorly studies on functional medicine. Your body is incredibly powerful, and it can heal naturally, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about capitalizing and leveraging the strongest parts of your physiology.

Remember that you’re not alone on this journey. If you’re looking to start reducing the number of medications, or you want to avoid using pain medications, in particular, reach out. I can help you find a regimen that works. It’ll take time and patience, but it’s worth it when you start to feel like yourself again.


Grand View Research

National Center for Biotechnology Information

JAMA Network

The Commonwealth Fund