Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ban the Ads: Why Doctors are Calling to Make Drug Advertisements a Thing of the Past

Image Source:  monitoringmedicines.org
These days you cannot turn on your television or browse through a magazine without seeing at least one advertisement for prescription medication.  You know the ones, a beautiful woman smiling as she hits the sheets because thanks to “Medication A” she is now able to get a good night’s sleep, an attractive middle-aged man catching a football because “Medication B” has him feeling younger than ever, or a little kid happily holding a pencil because “Medication C” allows him to finally be able to concentrate in school.

We have been seeing these ads for so long, hearing them quietly spiel what seems to be a never-ending list of side effects then subsequently prompt us to talk to our doctor today, that we have become accustomed to them.  However, in many countries this is NOT the norm.   The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription medications.  Here in the U.S, however, this trend may soon be coming to an end.

The American Medical Association (AMA), a professional organization of Doctors, has proposed a ban to DTC advertising of prescription drugs.  In a statement released on November 17th 2015, AMA’s Board Chair-elect Dr. Patrice A. Harris stated that the ban “…reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices”.  DTC advertising, he continued, also “… inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”
The AMA argues that prescription drug advertisements often lead patients to choose brand name medication over generic alternatives which are more economically efficient and just as clinically effective.  In addition, they cite data released by health research company Altarum Institute to demonstrate the high cost of medications.  In 2015, for example, prices for generic and brand name prescription drugs increased by 4.7 percent. 
Although, it is no secret that the cost of medications has been raising over the years, the problems with DTC may not be just about cost.  Many physicians identify patient misinformation as a problem as well.  One study found that 57 percent, or roughly 6 out of ten prescription drug advertisements contain misleading information.  Many ads have been found to exaggerate positive outcomes or leave out important information.
As you may imagine, pharmaceutical companies are NOT happy about the proposal. Considering that pharmaceutical ads are a major source of their revenue, neither are print magazines nor television companies.  Pharmaceutical companies have spent a reported $4.5 billion in prescription drug advertisement in 2014, up 18 percent from the previous year.  In a statement released on November 19th, 2015, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which is also not pleased with the motion, stated that the ban is not only a bad idea, but also one that “…raises very serious First Amendment concerns”. 

For the time being, however, all of those opposed can rest easy.  The AMA has no actual power to ban DTC ads; only congress can make that decision.  So far, no such determination by congress has been made.
Originally published in LatinTrends Magazine, Mar 2016

International Students on the Rise

Image Source:  careerindia.com
The United States may be number one in many things, but education is not one of them. According to global learning company, Pearson, when it comes to education, the United States does not even make the top 10, ranking 14 out of 40 countries considered in the category.  But don’t tell that to the rest of the world, because regardless of this ranking, international students are flocking to our colleges and universities more than ever before. As of 2015, there are 974,926 (almost 1 million!) foreign students in the United States.  

Most of the students, grossly 31%, come from China.  This is due primarily to the expansion of China’s middle class, which because of the increase in household wealth makes it possible for many Chinese families to afford the high costs associated with American education. The second largest number of students, 102,673 to be exact, comes from India, followed by South Korea, with over 68,000 students.  

Once here, the foreign students are making the most out of their education.  As per the Pew Research Center, International students make up more than half of the advanced degrees earned in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  After graduation, however, most of these students go back to their country of origin, either as a result of their own choosing or because immigration laws do not allow them to stay here. 

Why then, would they come to the U.S to study at all?  In many areas of the world, the American education system is perceived as being more prestigious, and of higher value and quality.  In many countries, collegiate students are limited to what careers they may pursue as their area of study is often determined by rigorous exams.  As a result, many foreign students are attracted to the prospect of an American education that allows them the freedom to study whatever they please.

For American colleges and universities, several of which due to lack of funding and low enrollment have been struggling financially, the influx is welcomed.  There are currently 245 colleges and universities in the United States hosting 1,000 or more international students.  When compared to local students, most international students pay higher tuition fees.  Some schools even charge additional fees, such as foreign-student-specific academic and administrative service fees. The Institute of International Education reports that as per the Department of Commerce, international students contributed nearly $31 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2014-2015 academic school year.   In 63.6% of the cases, the international student and/or his or her family funded the cost of tuition themselves

In addition to financial profit, however, international students bring about diversity.  It seems fit, then, that one of the most diverse cities in the world, New York City, leads the country in terms of the amount of foreign students it hosts. Most of these students can be found in New YorkUniversity and Columbia University, which rank number one and number three in the country, respectively, in international student enrollment.  For our local students, this is a good thing.  A recent study found that students that interact with international students have significantly higher skill development than students that do not.  It seems to be a system in which everybody can benefit.

Originally published in LatinTrends Magazine, March 2016