!!!Things That REALLY Piss Me Off
(Nothing any of us would understand
In today’s world it’s just about impossible to watch television for more than fifteen minutes without seeing an ad for some prescription medication. These miracle medicines are supposed to treat a variety of illnesses and medical conditions ranging from cancer and heart disease on one end of the disease spectrum, to chronic diseases like diabetes, MS and restless bowel syndrome. “Syndrome” seems to be the new buzz word in medicine, and any medical condition with the word “syndrome” tacked onto it seems to be especially noteworthy. There’s irritable bowel syndrome, attention deficit syndrome, the much feared restless leg syndrome and the even more feared restless hair syndrome where your hair seems to mess itself up for no good reason. But fear not because, regardless of the affliction you suffer from, the pharmaceutical industry has you covered. 

From everything I’ve read on the subject, the development of prescription medications is a veritable gold mine for pharmaceutical companies, and the many millions of dollars they spend on television advertising (more than $5 billion in 2016!) touting their products is much less than the proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to what they’re raking in on drug sales. But I guess you can forgive, at least to some extent, the egregious profiteering because these drugs are curing, or at least mitigating, the burdensome and sometimes life threatening symptoms of many debilitating and painful chronic diseases and conditions. 

I actually did my own study of sorts this past week. Over the course of four days, and during the course of my normal TV viewing, I made note of every prescription medication add that I saw. In other words, I’ve not included over the counter drugs which is a whole other story for another time. On each of the days when I conducted my survey I’d estimate my viewing time to be no more than three or four hours which, times four days, adds up to a total maximum viewing time of no more than sixteen hours. During that time I saw ads for twenty-four prescription meds which included the following names along with what they are supposed to treat:

Entresto - Heart failure
Viberzi - Irritable bowel syndrome
Prevagen - Memory loss
Movantik - Opioid induced constipation
Mirapex - Restlerss leg syndrome and Parkinson’s disease
Cialis - Erectile dysfunction (or….failure to retain a woody!)
Viagra - Same as Cialis
Latuda - Depression
Xarelto - Blood thinner
Abilify - Bipolar disorder
Xeljanz - Rheumatoid Arthritis
Eliquis - Blood thinner
Humira - Rheumatoid Arthritis
Linzess - Irritable bowel syndrome
Jardiance - Diabetes
Fartex - I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention!
Myrbetriq - Overactive bladder
Chantix - Smoking cessation
Toujeo - Diabetes
Januvia - Diabetes
Lyrica - Diabetic Neuropathy
Brilinta - Blood thinner
Trulicity - Diabetes
Farxiga - Diabete

Regardless of which channel I watched, almost every commercial break included at least one commercial for one of the twenty four prescription drugs listed above. As in credible as that may be, even more incredible (and scary) is that virtually every one of these drug ads was accompanied by a warning as to the possible side effects one should be on the look out for. Here is just a sampling of some of those potential side effects. Most of the drugs listed have multiple side effects, and the side effects listed below apply to multiple names on the list.

  • Kidney disease
  • Vision impairment
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems
  • Diziness
  • Confusion (they mean even more than usual!)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Amnesia (I forgot what that means!)
  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal gait
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Cramping in legs or feet
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Drooling (Also more than uaual!)
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Hair loss
  • Headache
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Upper tract respiratory infection
  • Yeast infection 
  • Low blood sugar
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase in appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Cold symptoms
  • Increased risk of serious infection
  • Death 

That’s thirty eight potential side effects from these meds, and that isn’t even the full list, but I had to stop because I’m wearing off the letters on my keyboard.

If you’ve ever really paid attention to these ads, the side effects are almost as gruesome as what Dr. Josef Mengele inflicted on his subjects during the Second World War. As you can see from the above list, we’re not just talking about the possibility of some short term nausea, or a little headache, or maybe a localized rash or dry cough. No, we’re talking about big trouble in River City as in the possibility of developing kidney or liver problems, big time life threatening infections, vision problems and, worst of all, constipation, to mention but a few. These potential side effects really bring home the old saying that “The cure is worse than the illness!” I guess this is what you’d call a classic example of trading in one problem for another!

I hate to single out any one product, but what the hell….why not! The last TV prescription med ad I saw before sitting down to write this chapter was for Farxiga, a fairly new med for diabetes. Here are the side effects which I obtained from Farxiga’s own website. Note that some of these side effects aren’t even included above in my master list of side effects.  

  • Dehydration
  • Ketoacidosis (That’s when a diabetic’s sugar gets too high and, if not immediately treated, can lead to death. )
  • Kidney problems
  • Serious urinary tract infections that can require hospitalization
  • Hypoglycemia (That’s when a diabetic’s sugar gets dangerously low and, if not immediately treated, can lead to death.)
  • Vaginal yeast infection
  • Yeast infection of skin around the penis
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Influenza
  • Back pain
  • Constipation
  • You are also advised to tell your doctor if you have, kidney, bladder, liver or pancreas problems, if you are pregnant or breast feeding.
  • Increase in bad cholesterol (LDL-C)
  • Increased urination 

Oh, and here’s my favorite: Tell your doctor if you are allergic to Farxiga! Are you kidding me! How the hell am I supposed to know if I’m allergic to Farxiga unless I take the drug at least once? No doubt their attorneys threw that one in for good measure. But I don’t mean to single out just Farxiga on that one because almost every TV drug ad throws that one in at the very end right after they quickly read the list of horrible things that could happen to you if you take their drug. You know, stuff like teeth falling out, loss of toes, shriveling of sex organs, puss in your knee pits and a whole host of similar (and definitely undesirable) afflictions. 

There are two other thing about drug ads I’d like to get off my chest. The first has to do with the rather liberal and uncontrolled use of the letters “Z” and “X” in prescription drug names. (Have you noticed it’s the same with car names too?) I guess I’m okay with “Z”, but “X”….well that’s another matter. Let me refer you once again back to Farxiga which is pronounced “Farziga”. In other words, the “X” is pronounced like “Z”, and it’s the same thing with both Xarelto and Xeljanz which are actually pronounced “Zaralto” and “Zeljanz”. So once again I ask the question, why not spell it the way it’s pronounced? Is the fact that they have used an X supposed to impress us?) Okay, I admit it….I’m impressed!)

The second thing has to do with the settings of nearly all TV drug commercials. Have noticed that nearly all adds feature a middle aged or elderly couple (or person) either shopping or walking in the woods (or at least near or in areas of heavy landscaping). Just once I’d like to see a husband and wife sitting around a rickety old table in a dilapidated kitchen arguing while they pop their meds. Or how about an elderly couple spread eagled against a wall while the cops pat them down, and then one of the elderly suspects asks the cop if he’d get him a glass of water so he could take is Myrbetriq before he pees all over the place. Now that’s what I call real “truth in advertising! 

One evening a year or two ago my wife and I were watching TV when an ad came on hawking a new prescription medication. It looked and sounded like a typical pharmaceutical ad until they got to the name, Lipoflavin! Are you kidding me? Lipoflavin? You can’t be serious. Well, I literally almost fell of the couch laughing. It just sounded so put on and made up that even today, long after I first saw the ad, I still laugh whenever I hear the name. I’m sure (and I truly hope) that it does some great things for the people who use it, and I’m glad for them that it works…. but Lipoflaven? Why not Gapinslaven, or maybe Easterbuniate or how about Jacolantine? Are they any worse?

Anyway, weeks later I still had the name Lipoflaven floating around in my head, and it still brought a broad grin to my lips whenever I thought of it. For some stupid reason it just struck my funny bone and kept on resonating. And that got me to thinking….have you ever wondered about how they come up with the goofy names for all these new drugs? Well, maybe you haven’t, but I guess it will come as no surprise that I’ve given it a fair amount of thought, and here’s what I’ve come up with. My guess is that every drug company has what I’ll call a “naming department” which is probably comprised of somewhere between three and five staff members whose job title is listed as “namer”. There’s probably a head namer and an assistant namer, and maybe even a naming assistant, all of whom have the sole job of coming up with names for new drugs. (Man, talk about having the weight of the world on your shoulders!) But it’s not as tough a job as it may at first seem because some of the very first namers from back in the mid 1900s made the job of today’s namers much easier as a result of some of the great work done by the original namers. The old time namers set up some basic drug naming conventions which are still very much in use today. First and foremost is the “Book of Suffixes”, the industry bible, written by that first generation of namers and which contains somewhere around ten or fifteen different endings which are tacked on to the end of all major drug names. Here are just a few of those suffixes: “zole”, “erol”, “vir”, “ix”, “ium”, “amine”, “dyne”, “atir”, “oid”, “one” and “ate”. (I have it on good authority that the Federal Drug Administration frowns on any new prescription drug names that don’t include one of these endings.)

One night when I was in college and my roommate and I were really bored, and after much experimentation, we came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t any song that you couldn’t turn into a polka by simply adding “boom boom” at the end. And to be absolutely sure that this was indeed true, we spent the better part of two months coming up with song titles which we then put top the big test. I’m happy to report that even old standards like “Amazing Grace” and the “Ava Maria” were tested and successfully turned into polkas. The reason I mention the polka thing, is that it’s not all that different with drug names. Once you know what the accepted suffixes are, it’s not all that difficult to stick a few letters in front of any given suffix and come up with an acceptable drug name. With this established base of suffixes at the ready, the rest is pretty simple, and that’s why the namers of today have it much easier than their counterparts from sixty or seventy years ago. 

It doesn’t take much effort or imagination to picture a weekly meeting of a drug company’s naming committee as they confer to come up with names for some new drugs.

After reading the synopsis that describes what the drug they are currently naming is to be used for, this sixty eight year old namer says with a fair amount of excitement, 

Member 1: “Jez, I got to get some of this stuff for myself. It’s supposed to keep seniors from farting in public.”
Member 2: “Wow!” he says while nearly drowning out the sound of his voice with a very noisy fart.
Member 3: “Hmm….weird looking pill, isn’t it. Looks a bit like a yellow ladybug,” she says while rolling it around in her fingers. “What would you call that color?” she asks.
Member 2: “I’m not sure. Isn’t it kind of like the same color as urine?
Member 3: “Now that you mention it, yeah, it does look like urine.”
Member 1: Then out of nowhere, “I got it!” says member 1 excitedly. “Uh…how about Pestatonamine?”
Member 2: “Yeah….it sounds good, but it doesn’t capture the real essence of the drug. But wait….wait! How about if we change it a bit to Pissstaurinide?”
Member 3: “Oh, yeah! Homerun! That’s a winner! We better call marketing and let them know so they can start to put together another ad with an aging couple walking hand in hand on a beach.”
Member 1: No, no….I think you’re confused. The ad setting where an aging couple walk hand in hand on the beach is for erectile dysfunction. You know….when your “wood” gets a little soft like overcooked spaghetti, if you know what I mean. Since this drug is an anti-farting drug, maybe the ad should take place in a very crowded space….you know, like maybe a public transit bus or subway during rush hour. 

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