Big Pharma's antisocial network
Big Pharma wants to be your "friend," join your "group" and send you "tweets."
But do yourself a favor and tell them to go blog themselves -- because these guys are anything but friendly.
Drug companies are turning the online health community into a shady back-alley drugstore. In some cases, they've been caught red-handed promoting meds on the Internet without mentioning those pesky side effects, as required by law. In others, they've been found using the Web to push the off-label use of meds.
That's illegal, by the way.
Drug kings pull shady tricks online
In one outrageous example, a "mommy blog" site joined with Bayer to create Tupperware-style parties in women's homes, featuring a blogger, a stylist and a nurse who told them how great their sex lives would be if they tried the Mirena birth control device.
But the nurse, "Barb," wasn't just offering friendly advice... she was paid by Bayer to read a carefully worded script, even if it was made to sound informal and off the cuff.
You should read this thing, it's fascinating. My favorite part is "OPPORTUNITY FOR BARB TO USE ANATOMICAL DEMO."
Now there's a party for you!
But here's what you won't find in that script: Any real discussion of some pretty big risks -- including infertility and infection.
No, that would be a party pooper -- although adding infection to the "anatomical demo" would certainly make for an unforgettable moment.
What's more, the notion that Mirena can improve anyone's sex life is pure bunk according to the FDA, which issued its favorite enforcement device: the sternly worded memo.
That'll teach 'em!
But what can they do? They have just 57 people to review 75,000 drug ads -- online and off -- every year. That's a mission designed to fail if I ever saw one.
In another case, Novartis was caught making Web sites that promoted its products without mentioning the side effects. Here's the little trick they pulled: They didn't actually mention the drugs by name, even if it was easy enough to figure out.
The FDA wasn't amused. Both sites have been replaced with letters of apology, which you can see here.
Novartis also earned itself a warning letter over its use of Facebook.
Think that's the end of it? This is just the beginning! Big Pharma has been pushing legal boundaries with Twitter messages, sponsored blogs and even ads that appear to look like Google search results.
And if you find Big Pharma has snuck into your social network, look for the "unfriend" button -- and don't be afraid to use it.
About the author
William Campbell Douglass I.I., M.D. has been called "the conscience of modern medicine."
You can sign up for his "Daily Dose" at DouglassReport.com.