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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Another Drug-Pushing Pharmaceutical TV Commercial

I was completely disgusted when I saw my first TV ad for a new drug called Movantik a few months back. It featured a woman of my general demographic who admitted to struggling with constipation due to her doctor-prescribed opioids. Great! First the drug companies convince the doctors they needn’t worry about addiction in prescribing opioid painkillers to their patients, then, once the patients are hooked, they’re right there to sell them another drug to deal with the side effects. But see, she’s a nice lady. Clearly not an addict. Nice people can take opioid painkillers. You got that message, right?

AstraZeneca’s newest commercial is equally insidious. It’s entitled “Frank’s Moment,” meaning the moment this completely healthy-looking construction foreman—ACTOR PORTRAYAL flashes briefly on the screen—gets the enlightening news from his doctor that his problem with OIC—Opioid-Induced Constipation—can be fixed simply by popping another pill! Yay for modern medicine!

The cynicism of the drug companies and these ad copywriters is breathtaking. They know that a huge percentage of middle-aged men who wind up on opioid painkillers arrive in this predicament by way of lower back pain, something that’s extremely common, especially among construction workers prone to “throwing their backs out.” So Frank’s world, the exposed floors, two-by-fours and staircases of a substantial new house going up, is familiar to them.

Please note though, that Frank is the boss. He’s not carrying anything heavier than his laptop. He’s in a position of power. He points people here and there. But, hey, look what a stand-up guy he is, taking a coffee break with his underlings. Also—this is important—he’s ridiculously goodlooking and fit. Actor Mike McGowan, playing “Frank,” delivers his lines to perfection. Sure, these words flash briefly on the screen: OPIOIDS SHOULD BE USED RESPONSIBLY AND ONLY WHEN PRESCRIBED BY A DOCTOR. But anyone with half-a-brain can see that if a great guy like Frank has no problem taking narcotics on a daily basis, who are they to go beating up on themselves? Nobody’s calling our Frank an addict, right? Hard to picture him going home to a wife who nags him with her concern about his prescribed drugs.

Appealing, affable Frank displays winning comic timing, the way he winces in acknowledgment of the bad puns he has no choice but to deliver, inviting his TV-watching buddies to bond over the essentially embarrassing nature of constipation.

Stop! I can’t take it! Because, people, this is not about constipation. It’s about addiction, which is way more than embarrassing. It’s deadly. An ad like this is quite simply enabling; it tells the viewer that as long as their doctor is still writing their prescriptions, they’re safe.

But they’re not. Opioids are not a good solution for chronic pain, and Frank does not represent the reality of a guy taking opioids long-term. The real guys get fat. Or they waste away. What they don’t do is stay as fit and cheerful as Frank. They go on disability and withdraw from life. Through a phenomenon called Hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain) opioids eventually make their pain worse until their sole daily goal is making sure they continue to get their drugs. These are the guys who eventually contribute to the statistical uptick in deaths among white, middle-aged men in America.

Finally, here’s the real capper about this new wonder drug. Guess what one of the listed side effects is? Symptoms of opioid withdrawal! Isn’t that rich? In an effort to go to the bathroom oftener, you may experience sweating, chills, anxiety, irritability, nausea and stomach pain. Hey, here’s an idea: Why not just bite the bullet, get yourself through the horrors of withdrawal to come out drug free rather than suffering with these symptoms as you continue to layer on even more prescriptions?

I could go on, but I wrote a whole book—Accidental Addict—to explain how I lived through this myself and why I have the feelings I do on the subject. I’m starting to hear from people who’ve read it and who see parts of their own stories or their loved ones’ in mine. Please check it out.

Save yourself. Save somebody you love.



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