Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

The Medicine Men
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Beware of celebrities hawking drugs | Over the past half-century, we've learned that whenever we hear celebrities and drugs mentioned in the same sentence, it usually involves either an arrest or somebody emerging triumphantly from rehab (again). But now we set celebrities up on pedestals and take their medical advice. Stars now shill for items that require prescriptions.

But this may not be that great an idea for your health.

In one sense, there's nothing new about a nexus between celebrities and medicine. Two traditional nexusesesses, actually. One involves direct fund-raising for research and treatment such as Jerry Lewis and his sempiternal muscular dystrophy telethons, or the late Danny Thomas and St. Jude's Hospital for Children. Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, has used his fame to urge increase research funding and awareness. Former "Superman" star Christopher Reeve, paralyzed in a horseback riding accident, has done similar work. Both have testified before Congress.

The other nexus comes via advertising. In the beginning, the marketing of disease awareness, treatment and prevention stayed in the realm of the ad agency that donated its efforts -- known as public service advertising. We still see this today, as when the aforementioned celebrities turn out the spots to advance their goals. It's worthy stuff.

Nor do we really suffer much heartburn with celebrity endorsements of over-the-counter medicines. They've been around for ages, and we rather enjoy that old Robert Young Marcus Welby pitch -- "I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV." And who can forget those commercials with June Allyson peddling adult diapers? Clearly a plus for the corpus of western civilization.

But over the past few years there has emerged a new and troubling trend of celebrities endorsing prescription products. There's skating star Dorothy Hamill and Vioxx. B.B. King and Wilfrid Bromley have both become spokesmen for diabetes products. "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer holds forth on irritable bowel syndrome. (The nearly bald actor also does commercials for dandruff shampoo, but that's for a future story on the "tacky things celebrities will do to make more money than they need.")

Speaking of benefits to western civ, let's not forget Bob Dole, hawking the merits of Viagra.

But now comes a strange hybrid: celebrity spokespersons both hawking their wares and dispensing free medical advice. It's one thing for Messrs. King and Bromley to urge diabetics to eat right and check their blood sugar often. But another when Rob Lowe of NBC's "West Wing" contracts with Amgen to headline a PR campaign about febrile neutropenia (chemotherapy patients prone to lingering infections). The drug, Neulasta, received approval in January 2002 for neutropenia treatment. His dad did receive chemotherapy and Lowe has a contract estimated around $1 million, according to a Wall Street Journal story.

Noah Wylie -- NBC's "E.R." -- was signed to speak out about melonoma after an agent that specializes in matching stars to drug manufacturers saw him advising a patient in his role as resident John Carter. He went on to appear on the Today Show and Entertainment Tonight.

Specifically, why have pharmaceutical manufacturers, who traditionally confined their advertising to the health care profession (ads in journals, free samples, etc.) gone Hollywood? In one word: Managed Care. As HMOs and insurance companies began tightening their formularies to the point where doctors couldn't even mention certain drugs, the pharmaceutical companies made a decision to go directly to the ultimate consumer. These ads don't tell you to rush right out and buy the product; they tell you to "ask your doctor."

Unfortunately, celebrity endorsements also affect health attitudes and expectations. That's why they get the big bucks. But it's one thing to buy the shoes and then not turn into the next Michael Jordan, and quite another to demand a cancer drug because some actor endorses it, then die. What is scary is that we turn to TV for our medical information. So how does even the educated viewer sort it out? Who's getting paid and who's stumping for a cause they really believe in? Most ads and entertainment talk shows do not include disclosures about financial remuneration.

PR persons tell us that it's tough to get celebrities to do legitimate public service campaigns for good, non-profit causes because they all expect the million dollar check to open their mouths. There are even agencies that specialize in this practice.

Congress may be willing to listen to the medical testimony of celebrities, but viewers should not. The ultimate medication decisions should be made by you -- the patient -- along with a professional you trust.

Enjoy this duo's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical- legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.


09/06/02: Avoid 9/11 overdose: Give blood to begin "September of Service," SOS
08/28/02: From Doubleday to strikeday: Baseball's collective anxiety attack
08/23/02: Should she or shouldn't she?: An alternative view on treating menopause with HRT
08/16/02: Cooking up defenses against germ warfare
08/02/02: Medicine, crime and canines
07/26/02: Lies, pathologic lies and the Palestinians
07/19/02: Medicare Drug Follies as in "now you see it, now you don't"
07/12/02: Anti-Profiling: A New Medically False Belief System
07/08/02: Don't procrastinate, vaccinate!
06/28/02: The scientific advances on the safe and effective deployment of DDT are being ignored, or denied. Why?
06/21/02: Sex and the system: In seeking healthcare men are different from women
06/14/02: The FDA, drug companies and life-saving drugs: Who's the fox and who's the hen now?
06/07/02: Medical Privacy Lost: A hippo on the healthcare back!
05/24/02: To clean up America's game: A (soggy) ground rule
05/10/02: Free speech is good medicine
05/03/02: Medicine's Vietnam
04/26/02: Attack on alternative medicine could lead to alternative lawsuits
04/12/02: Insure the 'crazies'?
04/09/02: No Time for Litmus Tests: In War We Need a Surgeon General and NIH, CDC, and FDA Directors
04/02/02: The scoop on soot: A dirty rotten shame?
03/22/02: Too many beautiful minds to waste: The first annual Caduceus Movie
03/15/02: Terror and transformation: Defense essential for health & state of mind
03/08/02: Diagnosis: Delusional
03/06/02: The great matzah famine
03/01/02: Is new Hippocratic Oath hypocritical?
02/15/02: Why the recent moaning about cloning?
02/08/02: Searching for Dr. Strangelove
01/15/02: Score one for the value of human life
01/04/02: Medical-legal-financial wake-up call
12/28/01: Who's afraid of a 'dirty bomb'?
12/21/01: End of medicine?
12/14/01: More heroes: Docs deserve a little credit after 9/11
11/16/01: Do we need 'Super Smallpox Saturdays'?
11/09/01: Why the post-9-11 health care debate will never be the same
11/01/01: Common sense good for our mental health
10/26/01: Your right to medical privacy --- even in terror time
10/12/01: Failed immigration policy ultimately bad for nation's mental health: Enemy within leads to epidemic of jumpy nerves
09/28/01: Can legal leopards change their spots: A treat instead of a trick
09/21/01: Civil defense again a civic duty
08/30/01: Shut down this government CAFE
08/23/01: School Bells or Jail Cells?
08/15/01: Time to take coaches to the woodshed
08/10/01: Blood, Guts & Glory: The Stem of the Stem Cell controversy

© 2002