It's not often that we get to see the complete causal chain all wrapped up in one brief newspaper article, but USA Today managed it:
At issue: a recent USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health poll that revealed that about a third of us go to "ask our doctor" after seeing a TV drug advertisement, and that 82% of those who ask end up with some prescription or other. Also, 29% reported not being able to fill a prescription sometime in the last 2 years because of cost; 23% had to cut pills in half or skip doses due to cost; and 41% of families have some sort of problem due to the cost of drugs.
The poll showed that slightly more than half of the "ask your doctor" crowd ended up with a prescription for a different drug than the one advertised. On the one hand, that sounds good, as if physicians might actually be wisely suggesting lower cost generic equivalents. On the other hand, we have to wonder if 82% of those who asked (by the way, up from 75% in a 2005 poll) truly needed a prescription medication for whatever their problem was--especially given the tendency of direct-to-consumer ads to persuade us over time that more and more of what we used to call normal living is actually a previously unknown disease and needs aggressive therapy with drugs.
DTC advertising, at one point thought to have peaked and to be on the downslope, obviously is highly effective in generating pharma revenue, and the article reports that spending on such ads in 2006 reached record levels of $4.8B.
The poll showed a 47-44% split of those having favorable and unfavorable views of the drug industry, respectively. Billy Tauzin, president of PhRMA, gamely argued that people don't really dislike the drug companies. Rather, they react with anger to the higher co-pays that insurance companies slap them with, and that makes them feel sour about the drug company. Presumably it's the insurers who are the rapacious bastards, not your friendly pharmaceutical industry. (In that he is no doubt right, but I'll let other bloggers on health reform take that up.)
So here we have the entire package deal. DTC ads are turning us into a nation of drugseekers, which enhances revenue for the industry, but also drives up the prices of drugs, which makes drugs less affordable for an increasing percentage of us.