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Celebrities Prescribing Drugs - Look Behind the Scenes

Posted Feb 2nd, 2010 by Trisha Torrey

I’ve always been a fan of Sally Field. I’ve admired Robert Dole, Bruce Jenner, Brooke Shields and many other celebrities, athletes and even a few other politicians, too.  When it comes to the work they do – acting, swimming, modeling, legislating – whatever it is – I have a great deal of admiration.

But just because I’ve admired them, doesn’t mean I would ask them to prescribe a drug for me.
Even if they did, there’s not a pharmacy in the world would fill it.  They can’t write prescriptions because they aren’t doctors.

Yet millions of people trust celebrities enough to ask their doctors to prescribe the drugs those celebrities have told them about every day!  Sally Field tells us to ask our doctors for the osteoporosis drug she hawks on TV.  Somehow they make that leap from “She was so cute as Gidget” to “I think she must know what’s best for my bones.”  Brooke Shields wants us to grow our eyelashes longer. Robert Dole claims Viagra has helped him…

Those millions of people have never stopped to think that the only reason Sally Field is telling them what drug they should take is because she has been paid by the manufacturer to do so.  We don’t have any idea whether Sally Field even takes that drug herself, or whether she is simply reading the script they gave her. 

We should never forget the first rule about the best way to assess drug advertising. That is, we need to follow the money. Dozens of celebrities are paid millions of dollars to endorse drugs even though they know nothing about those drugs.  Nor do they know anything about you or me.  Following the money tells us that we must learn more, and not simply do what they tell us to do.

Other faces and names endorsing specific drugs may be familiar, too. Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill, cyclist Lance Armstrong, Desperate Housewife Marcia Cross and others.  A few years ago we saw Robert Jarvik, who we thought had invented the artificial heart, tout a cholesterol drug. Turns out he is not a licensed medical doctor, nor did he invent the artificial heart. (Someone else invented it, but Jarvik patented a similar one). Yet, Jarvik was being paid plenty for promoting that drug.

Sometimes the celebrity-drug money connection is more difficult to determine. You might appreciate Lauren Hutton’s efforts toward creating awareness for macular degeneration, or Kathleen Turner’s rheumatoid arthritis advocacy. Both women – actresses -- suggested you check out their disease websites.  Those websites were developed by drug manufacturers to promote the sales of their drugs.   They provide some background information about the respective diseases, but all treatment links lead to the drugs developed by those manufacturers.

When we think about it, we know celebrities have no medical knowledge, and we understand they are simply talking heads. Our best takeaway from celebrity endorsements is to notice that options may exist for improving our health. From there we can do more research on our own, then talk to our doctors to determine whether any of those options can help us.

But never – ever – simply take a celebrity’s word for the effectiveness of a drug, only to ask your doctor to prescribe it. 

Your doctor will probably never win an Academy Award nor an Olympic medal. Don’t expect a celebrity to give you good information about prescription drugs either.

 

About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at About.com.

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