The consequences that the marketing of prescription opioids has had on the U.S. population stands to show that marketing must be done with ethical examination to avoid a fallout. Without taking their impact into consideration, marketers risk being responsible for more than just sales.
Opioid Industry Marketing
In the 90s, amidst social advocacy for the treatment of chronic pain and the development of new opioid drugs, marketers for pharmaceutical industries began their wooing of medical professionals in an attempt to sell their drugs. Purdue Pharma began it’s marketing of the opioid OxyContin in 1996, with its sights set on selling more than any of its competitors.
While being eager and ambitious in marketing certainly factors into the success of your company, there is a point when not pausing becomes unethical. In the instance of opioid drugs like OxyContin, this moment came half a decade after its release, when people began to note the risks for addiction, as well as the number of overdoses that seemed to be coming with the drug.
Instead of reflecting on their product and their responsibility as a company, the company responded to the criticism by placing the blame on those who experienced addiction. By mimicking outrage, they put the attention on those who were victims of addiction instead of considering that their product may need to be revised.
In 2017, opioid drugs were responsible for almost 50,000 deaths. This is a result of loose regulations on the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the heavy marketing that the industry did on medical professionals. Millions of dollars were spent directly on convincing doctors that these opioids were safe; however, this funding did leave a paper trail of the consequences.
Vox cited a study from Boston University that found that the more money marketers spent in any given area, the higher the rates of opioid-related deaths were. Doctors who spent time with marketers were more likely to be influenced to prescribe opioid drugs to some of the many individuals who came in experiencing pain, often not realizing there were trends of consequences with these drugs.
Almost one third of Americans experience more than one chronic illness, which is more likely as patients get older. With age, the likeliness of health conditions increases, many of which come with pain. However, chronic pain is more appropriately treated with medications or therapies that pose fewer risks and long-term consequences than opioid drugs.
Ethics of Marketing
Marketing is constantly changing in an attempt to address trends in consumer concerns and questions. For opioid drugs, marketers focused on convincing doctors that their drugs were safe for consumers to use. With the financial state of so many Americans, other companies have begun advertising drug prices in their television ads, as well as through other forms of media.
This provides the public with information that could help sway them into purchasing a new product; however, in the past, price has been considered an inappropriate factor to focus on. Rather, it’s considered more important to focus on information about the medication, and to clarify any risks that could be associated with taking new medications.
It soon became clear that irresponsible marketing caused the over-prescribing of opioid drugs like OxyContin, which was responsible for the addiction epidemic of opioid drugs. Addiction and overdose has resulted in thousands of deaths, and pharmaceutical companies have developed drugs like Suboxone to help treat people’s addiction to opioids.
If the marketing of these opioid drugs had been responsible, it would have informed consumers of the risk of addiction, and tried to ward off those who may not have needed the drug from using it. However, honesty can cause a drop in sales, as it keeps people from using drugs; a trade-off that should be made gladly in order to keep people safe.
The pharmaceutical companies that are responsible for opioid drugs have faced their share of consequences for the opioid epidemic. Irresponsible and inaccurate marketing is not only unethical, but it can result in legal trouble for companies that don’t do enough to warn consumers about the risks involved with using these drugs. Drug lawsuits are often compelling, as they make a case of marketing outweighing the importance of patient safety.
As a marketing team, it’s important to follow ethical guidelines when it comes to selling your product. Informing consumers is an important aspect of the job, as it helps get their informed consent for using the drug. Although, you’re responsible for getting your product out to the public, keeping the public safe is an aspect of your job as well; and it’s important to have a strong ethical compass as you allow marketing to affect people’s health and wellbeing.