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Education & Advertising Revisited

Yesterday I received the first mailing of Pfizer’s “Be Stronger Than Your Migraine” campaign. Disguised as a letter welcoming me to the program, the mailing was all about how the drug will change my life. The main points:

  • Don’t give up – Even if it didn’t work last time, Relpax may work in the future
  • Partner with your doctor – Your doctor needs to know how you’re doing on the drug and should give you refills before you run out

I also got the patient info sheet that’s included with every prescription. More pieces of the toolkit are supposedly on the way. Maybe they’ll even address tools other than Relpax.

Coincidentally, an e-mail message from an Ortho-McNeil employee also arrived yesterday, asking my opinion of the Topamax and Axert educational and advertising sites. Before I had a chance to look at the sites, I wondered if my response to the Relpax campaign was too harsh or not well thought out.

The answer is no.

I’m a fan of western medicine and don’t think all drug companies are bad or that “natural” treatments are better. Quite simply, I think that advertising that feeds false hope is disgusting. It’s unethical for a company that stands to profit to play into the vulnerabilities of someone with illness.

In contrast to my beef with the Pfizer site, Ortho-McNeil’s sites provide comprehensive information about migraines and possible treatments. Topamax and Axert are mentioned as what the company can offer for a preventative or abortive, but aren’t hyped. Even the drug specific websites don’t use absolutes.

My biggest complaint is the name of the site “Mind Over Migraine,” which encourages patients to be involved in their treatment and gives specific tips on how to gain some control. But there’s even a statement on the site that while you can’t think your migraines away, “you do have the power to decide whether you’ll take control of your migraines, or let them take control of you.”

What can I say? I’m impressed.

I’m not shilling for Ortho-McNeil. I don’t know if one drug is better than another – and the answer to that will depend on your body – but I’ll always support honest educational materials and a realistic approach to a medication’s results over an ad that’s framed as outreach.

(The sites I looked at: topamax.com, axert.com, 4migraineprevention.com, migrainesolutions.com, mindovermigraine.com)

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Education or Advertising?

Pfizer, the maker of Relpax, announced a new migraine education – and advertising – campaign today. Called “Be Stronger Than Your Migraine,” the company says the campaign provides migraine patients with tools to identify how migraine affects their lives, recognize how they interfere with their own treatment and ways to have a better relationship with their doctors.

There’s not much information available on it yet, but I’ve requested the “toolkit.” At the surface, it appears to be little more than a direct-to-consumer drug ad. You know the line: If you tell your doctor to prescribe Relpax, you’ll be in control and your pain will go away.

Am I being cynical? Yes. Volatile? Certainly. I’m tired of drug companies and media outlets telling me that I just have to be strong and my headaches will go away. Yes, it’s important to be assertive with your doc and to think about ways to become more involved in your treatment. It’s also important to grieve the losses that you’ve had because of your headaches. And to think critically about who is giving you such advice.

Mostly I’m angry because Pfizer, like many other drug companies, is promoting the idea of the miracle cure for migraine. Relpax might be the drug that improves migraine pain. But it isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s dangerous to believe in a miracle cure, because you’ll be crushed if it doesn’t exist for you.

This might turn out to be a great and empowering campaign and I’ll have egg on my face. I’ll share the information with you when I receive the materials. You can also look into it for yourself. Yahoo! has the press release, the campaign site has an overview and the Relpax website has more detailed information.

I have a Relpax prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy. Who knows, maybe it’ll be my miracle drug. In any case, you should know that one of the reasons I started this blog is because so much migraine information online is from advertisements thinly disguised as education campaigns. You can be sure that I’ll never push one medication or treatment over another.