Chances are, the commercial is familiar, seen more often than not at dinnertime: a middle-aged woman begins a discussion by saying, "I can't even believe I'm talking about this."
The "this" in question is her overactive bladder, and the slightly unsettling advertisement is for oxybutinin chloride, better known by its brand name of Ditropan XL. The drug, available only by prescription, is manufactured by Alza, which began promoting it with a print and television campaign in 1999, using a strategy known as direct-to-consumer advertising, which critics contend leads to an overmedicated populace.
The approach's effectiveness in getting Americans to consider drug therapies is well-documented. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that for every dollar spent on direct-to-consumer advertising, drug sales increased by $4.20. In 2000, that translated to an additional $2.6 billion in pharmaceutical sales.
"By raising awareness of overactive bladder as a treatable medical condition," Thomas Bruckman, former executive director of a patients' advocacy organization called the American Foundation for Urologic Disease, said in a press release for Ditropan, "consumer campaigns like this one will help more people seek treatment from a urologist or other physician."
Bruckman's praise—cheerfully quoted by Alza in a 1999 press release touting its launch of the media campaign—wasn't his organization's only testimonial on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. AFUD's mission is to "raise funds for research, lay education and patient advocacy for the prevention, detection, management and cure of urologic disease," according to its Web site. And over the years, it's been a reliable supporter of the industry.