Inventing a Disease via Direct-To-Consumer Advertising: Low Testosterone
According to today’s Times “The market for testosterone gels evolved because there is an appetite among men and because there is advertising,” said Dr. Joel Finkelstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who is studying male hormone changes with aging. “The problem is that no one has proved that it works and we don’t know the risks.” Many experts say that pharmaceutical advertising promotes excessive and inappropriate drug use by convincing patients that they are ill — or have a more serious condition than is genuinely the case — and need medicine to treat it. While television viewers are barraged with advertising warning men they may have “low T,” Dr. Finkelstein said, “There is no such disease.”
“The market for testosterone gels evolved because there is an appetite among men and because there is advertising,” said Dr. Joel Finkelstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who is studying male hormone changes with aging. “The problem is that no one has proved that it works and we don’t know the risks.”
Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and chief academic officer at Scripps Health in San Diego, is alarmed by the high percentage of patients he sees who use the roll-on prescription products, achieving testosterone levels that he described as “ridiculously high.”
The gels are of questionable medical benefit for many of the millions of men who now take them, he and other doctors say, and their side effects may well prove dangerous.
So why are so many men asking for testosterone therapy? Well as someone who worked in the OTC arena as well as the ethical side of the business I know that the number one complaint with men is both lack of energy and lack of “sexual desire” as they age. While a lot of this can be caused by the wrong diet and lack of exercise consumers today want a “quick fix”. If men can apply testosterone treatment and take Viagra who needs diet and exercise ?
A survey this year by CMI/Compass found that more than half of physicians felt that pharmaceutical advertising to consumers should be scaled back, and 63 percent said it misinformed patients.
“I really don’t understand why it’s tolerated at a time we’re struggling with health care costs,” Dr. Topol said. “A lot of people bounce their legs in meetings, but that doesn’t mean you have restless leg syndrome, and you shouldn’t be taking drugs for that.”
While Rx’s for testosterone increase physicians also have to take some responsibility. How many doctors are conducting blood tests to determine a patients testosterone level and recommending to patients that the best way to restore energy and vigor is through diet and exercise versus just writing an Rx or handing out samples ? My guess is that most men who receive the Rx are not having blood tests to determine if they have low T because physicians feel that the therapy has low risks. However the long term risks are unknown and the drug industry should be informing their target audience how to get tested for low T and what ranges are considered normal. Until then the false promise of testosterone will continue to drive new Rx’s.