Where would you turn if you wanted the best advice about trying a new drug? A doctor with years of specialized training? A website with opinions from leading experts in the field? Maybe a review article by a trustworthy medical reporter. Or, maybe even go right to the source — an article about the drug in the peer-reviewed medical literature.
Or you could choose to get advice from someone whose education ended with high school and who almost certainly has had no training in pharmacology or scientific methodology. In America the answer is, sadly, the high school graduate if he or she is a huge celebrity.
Drug manufacturers know this. They turn to celebrities, no matter how ignorant, ill-informed, money grubbing or air-headed, to pitch their goods directly to you on TV and the internet.
The latest example of this reliance on the utterly unqualified is the use of the surgically reengineered, reality show TV star Kim Kardashian to endorse a pill for women suffering from morning sickness during pregnancy. Kim, whose science training, whatever it was, ended when she graduated California’s Marymount high school, recently offered this assessment of the medication:
“You know how sick I was while pregnant; I could barely get out of bed. That was before I found a safe & effective med to treat my morning sickness when diet & lifestyle changes didn’t help. I hear there’s a new formulation of the drug combination I took that’s made to work faster & longer. If you’re pregnant & feeling sick & changing your diet & lifestyle doesn’t work, ask your doctor about Bonjesta® (doxylamine succinate/pyridoxine HCl). Most common side effect is drowsiness. Bonjesta.com for info.”
She appears to have blessed a drug she never used and had no basis to endorse. And whether she got all the possible important side effects out there is not clear. In 2015, her internet post lauding another morning sickness drug, Diclegis, made by the same company, Duchesnay, now pushing Bonjesta, earned her $500,000 and Duchesnay a warning letter from the FDA for false and misleading advertising. Duchesnay dealt with the FDA and went on its merry way coming up with new meds relying on confirmation of their value by Kim.
It seems pretty likely she was handsomely paid for her kind words about Bonjesta–payment that, if it occurred, is not disclosed in her endorsement or in most commercials in which celebrities tout drugs, vaccines and devices.
Legislators and patients often wonder why the cost of drugs in America is so high relative to the rest of the world. Well, one reason is the rest of the world does not tolerate direct-to-consumer ads aimed at ginning up demand when touted by actors, soap opera stars, sports stars, reality tv icons, quiz show hosts and others selling their fame so you will use a company’s drug. Increasing the demand through celebrity endorsement allows companies to jack up their prices. Duchesnay did just that! Artificial demand creates more expense downstream for insurers, payer programs, and patients.
We treat marketing drugs on a par with marketing cosmetics, dishwashers, and fast food. And we get what Kim and other media celebs are paid for: useless information from unqualified sources who can grab eyeballs and get you to pester your doctor about what your idols say works.