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The drugs ads we <em>need</em> to see

Marketplace Staff Oct 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Gambling can be awfully addictive. But there are plenty of other vices out there: cigarettes, alcohol, drugs. Many of them as addictive as gambling or more. There are treatments on the market. But doctor and commentator Stefan Kertesz says there’s a reason we don’t hear about them.

STEFAN KERTESZ: SCRIPT: If Big Pharma wasn’t so busy using butterflies to sell sleeping pills, I would turn their genius to one truly serious problem that needs to come out of the shadows.

It’s addiction.

Drug and alcohol problems dwarf heart disease. They cost our economy nearly $400 billion a year, in lost productivity, heathcare and criminal justice services.

It’s a huge problem. But the ads on TV push us to buy drugs we didn’t know existed for conditions we don’t necessarily have. That’s a mistake.

What holds us back is our own stereotypes. We prefer to think that addictions plague either celebrities or down-and-out bums. And Big Pharma’s silence helps perpetuate them.

But the 22 million Americans struggling with substance abuse live with and among us. Over half of us have an affected person in the family.

Addiction treatments can work. But people are reluctant to go, in part because insurers treat addiction like a second-class health problem.

In 44 states, insurers aren’t required to cover addiction as they would any other serious long-term condition, so they don’t.

Ironically, only Big Pharma can turn this around.

New FDA-approved medications for alcoholism, smoking and opiate abuse give them every incentive to run ads we actually need to see.

The future TV spot isn’t hard to imagine. There’s soft music, a sad child, a woman’s face. She says, “I have an embarrassing problem. This company has a product that helped me get back on track. Now I have my life back.”

If Big Pharma steps up to the plate, then we’ll need to step up, too. We’ll need to push our insurers to pay for the drugs we didn’t know existed for conditions many of us do have.

If we say that addiction treatment matters to us, then the people who control healthcare’s purse strings will have to say it matters too.

RYSSDAL: Stefan Kertesz teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

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