THE INTERNET HAS BEEN blitzed recently with a The actresses used this phrase to request a pop-particular phony warning, passed on by tens of thou- ular and widely advertised antidepressant, Paxil: “I
sands of e-mailers across the country, fueling a panic saw this ad on TV the other night. It was about Paxil.
among cell phone users. The message starts like this: Some things about the ad really struck me. I was
“Important—not a joke! Just a quick reminder ... wondering if you thought Paxil might help me.”
“... In 31 days, cell phone numbers are being In 49 such visits, the doctors obliged the patient
released to telemarketing companies and you will by prescribing an antidepressant, usually Paxil, 55
start to receive sales calls. You will be charged for percent of the time. Patients who did not mention
these calls. Call the national Do Not Call list from an ad were prescribed an antidepressant only 10 per-your cell phone or register online. It only takes a cent of the time, according to the study.
minute of your time. It blocks your number for five Last year, the U.S. drug industry spent $4.1 bil-years. Please pass this on to everyone you know.” lion marketing pharmaceuticals directly to con-
Like so many other “warnings” circulating via sumers, a 28 percent jump from 2003. Critics of
e-mail, this is a hoax. The only factual part is that direct-to-consumer advertising say it leads to need-you can indeed register your cell phone on the Do less prescriptions. Dr ug companies argue
Not Call list by calling 888-382-1222 or going online that the ads simply increase patient
www.donotcall.gov. But no, there is no diabolical awareness, allowing more people to get
plot to provide telemarketers with a published direc- the proper diagnosis and treatment.
tory of cell phone numbers. Other surveys have shown that in up
This “urgent” warning has been circulating on to 7 percent of doctor visits, a patient
the Internet for some time. What I think is humor- requests a prescription based on an
ous is that people tend to panic and spread such ad—a rate that experts say can
rumors before checking to see if they’re true. If they significantly boost sales.
had checked, they would have learned that the only Joel Weissman, a health-pol-facts were about the existence of the National Do icy expert at Harvard Medical
Not Call Registry and how to register for it. This is School, had this to say about
the same anti-telemarketing list where consumers the study: “When patients ask
have been registering their phone, fax and wireless for a drug, they tend to get a
numbers since October 2003. drug regardless of whether it
I always suggest that people check out the facts is appropriate for them. That
before circulating “helpful warnings” and urban leg- is a fascinating finding.”
ends. In this case, did anyone bother to ask, “ 31 days I think that this comes as
from when?” before they forwarded the warning to no surprise, knowing the
others? And what is meant by “cell phone numbers enormous sums the phar-are being released to telemarketing companies”? Is a maceutical companies are
breach of privacy really being orchestrated? legally and openly spending
Meanwhile, several Web sites, such as www.on advertising. C
fiction.com help separate truth from fiction.
Persuasion and prescriptions
Advertising has enormous power when it comes David Horowitz is a
to selling prescription drugs. So I wasn’t shocked by leading consumer advocate.
the results of a study conducted at the University of His “Fight Back!” commen-
California’s Davis campus and recently published in taries are heard daily on
the Journal of the American Medical Association. the Jones Radio Network.
The study, utilizing undercover “patients,” re- For stations and times,
vealed that general practitioners were persuaded to check the radio page at
prescribe antidepressants when patients mentioned
watching TV advertisements for such drugs, even if
the medication was not clinically necessary.
AMY CAN TRELL
I PURCHASED two homes
as rental properties 18
months ago. The gas company left the gas on from
the previous owners and
did not notify me or my
tenants until now. I’ve
had several tenants, but
no one activated their
own account because they
thought gas was covered
in the rent. The gas company just demanded that
someone pay all the back
bills. Who’s responsible?
Jim, San Jose, CA
JIM, when a house is on
the market, sellers usu-
ally leave the utilities on,
then cancel their account
when escrow closes. The
buyer then should notify
the utility company to
register the account in
his or her name.
sible? You should
have notified the
when you first
ship and then
each tenant moved
in. You also should
have specified in their
leases that tenants
were responsible for
However, the gas
company seems negli-
gent in keeping the ser-
vice active for 18
months without pay-
ment or investigation.
Contact your state public
utility commission for
their opinion. If they
determine you are legally
responsible, try negotiat-
ing with the gas company
for a reduced bill.
In reality, the “patients” in the study were actresses
portraying 45-year-old divorcées who had recently Do you have a question for David?
lost their jobs and complained of stress, fatigue and Just log on to
www.fightback.com and “Ask David.” He will personally respond
back pain. These symptoms are indicative of adjust- to your problem if you follow the instructions printed on his Web site. (Costco
ment disorder, a mild form of depression brought members receive a discount off the normal fee.) Questions and answers of
on by stressful or upsetting life events. In these cases, the greatest interest to Costco members will be used in this column with the
medications are thought to be of little value. permission of the contributor, and will be posted on