Parents Should Be Wary of the New Drug Culture

Pharmaceutical companies use fear to convince parents to buy more drugs.

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Children are getting ready to go back to school, bringing with them a problem that has troubled society for some time: drugs.

It's not necessarily illegal drugs that are the trouble here, although that is certainly something to address. It's the prescription drugs parents have been told their children need to fix some syndrome or ailment that may actually be nothing more than an active personality or a slower-than-average ability to learn. Or it could be that the kid just has an attitude problem. But the pharmaceutical industry, cashing in by employing one of the most effective marketing tools—fear—has convinced parents that their kids' difficulties learning or socializing are in fact medical conditions treatable only by chemicals. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

It doesn't stop there, of course; adults are inundated with ads revealing some alleged medical condition that is plaguing X number of people and which must be controlled through the ingestion of a drug—a drug, the advertising announcer adds quickly at the end of the commercials, that might cause a slew of other health problems, including death. It's baffling to me that anyone would take a drug for a non-life threatening illness if the drug could actually kill him or her, but perhaps the drug manufacturers are hoping that the fear of having some new illness will supersede the worries about dying from the treatment.

The most effective ads are the ones directed at adults, but with the full child-scare factor thrown in. Take, for example, a drug being marketed to adults to keep them from spreading whooping cough to their babies. In the ad, a child is coughing painfully, his or her worried mother bouncing the child on her hip and clearly concerned that the baby will not recover. But there's an added guilt factor: the overwhelming number of cases of whooping cough, we are gravely informed, come from contamination by a family member. I'm sorry, but where else is a seven-month-old going to get whooping cough? At the gym? The market? Out clubbing with other crawling babies? But while it might not always work to convince adults to take care of their own health, the drug manufacturers have clearly figured out that adults will take anything if it will protect their children. If there's a sound medical reason to ingest a drug to prevent the spread of a disease, I'm all for it. But the commercial is heavy on the guilt and light on the scientific details, such as the effectiveness, cost and possible dangers of the drug. [See the month’s best political cartoons.]

Medicine and pharmaceuticals have certainly come a long way since I was in school. Back then, the drug discussion was about avoiding uppers, downers, and LSD. Cocaine—and certainly crack cocaine—wasn't really popular then, and anyway, no one I went to school with could have afforded it anyway. We were hit hard with an anti-drug message, and even harder with an anti-smoking campaign—both of which worked. We were told that people took drugs because they suffered from low self-esteem. Who will protect children from the drugs marketed through fear?

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