Blog: Medical Warnings

Burt Ross

I watch a lot of tv. I shouldn’t, but I do. I have noticed that the preponderance of the ads are related to medicine, quite often to prescription drugs. There is little doubt that we are over medicated, and as I get older, my medicine cabinet like everybody else’s gets more and more filled with medicines of all sorts. I occasionally forget which med is supposed to do what. 

I remember a time when my Mom, who in her late 80’s was living with Dad in Florida, went to see her former doctor in New York City. She carried with her a small valise of her medicines, and dropped them all in front of her doctor for his review. “Rose, there are two medicines you are taking which are identical. You might consider not taking one of them,” he advised. Mom would not hear of the medical expertise which supposedly she was seeking, “Doctor, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Approaching 90, Mom was not going to change a thing.

All of these advertisements on television make good business not just for the pharmaceutical companies, but also for the lawyers. Each ad tells us we ought to drop everything and immediately buy the product that is being peddled, but the ad also enumerates a myriad of possible hazards associated with taking the medicine. These medical warnings are prepared by lawyers, and they apparently do not want to miss a side effect no matter how remote. 

If people were actually to listen to these warnings delivered at machine gun speed, I am not sure anybody would buy any medicine. For instance, if you were to buy a pill to deal with a toe fungus, you might learn that 1 person out of 3 billion people either died of a stroke or cancer or got hit by lightning.

My favorite ad is for a medicine called Dupixent, which is a prescription drug reportedly effective in treating people aged 6 and older with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, better known as eczema. The ad states that Dupixent can cause serious side effects, including: breathing problems, fever, swollen lymph nodes, swelling of the face, mouth and tongue, itching, fainting, dizziness, joint pain, eye problems, inflammation of your blood vessels and so on and so on. The list is so long it would take up another column. Although these side effects are extremely rare, the lawyers want to be up front in having you know the risks.

The ad closes with “Do not take Dupixent if you are allergic to Dupixent.” These are not my words, trust me. Just picture for a moment a group of corporate attorneys gathered around a large conference table. They are all dressed in suits with ties, and they are making sure that no possible side effect is left out of an upcoming ad. All of a sudden one of these lawyers gets excited and comes up with an idea, “Let’s say that people should not take Dupixent if they are allergic to Dupixent.” All as one these high priced attorneys who spent three years at law school and passed their bar exams, exclaim how they have just been exposed to genius.

And so, if I can simply leave you with one idea to take away from this column, please do not take any medicine if you are allergic to it!