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Health & Science

As TV Viewers Get Older, Drug Ads Take A Terrifying Turn

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you watch television the old-fashioned way on a television set, you know that with every new medication advertised, there will be side effects. There always are.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Including dehydration, which may cause some people to have loss of body water and salt.

SIEGEL: That's not good.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: This may also cause you to feel dizzy, faint, lightheaded or weak, especially when you stand out.

SIEGEL: Well, standing up is overrated.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Other side effects may include kidney problems, genital yeast infections, urinary tract infections, changes in your urination, high potassium in the blood or increases in cholesterol.

SIEGEL: Wow, welcome to the prime time of our lives. This has been going on for years. But according to Nielsen, in the past three years, people of all ages have reduced their TV viewing except for those 65 and up, so older Americans are a lucrative target of drug commercials and that litany of FDA mandated side effect disclosures.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened, as have blood, liver and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions and new or worsening heart failure.

SIEGEL: It is an inventory of pharmaceutically-induced decrepitude. We see vigorous seniors. They're engaged with life, but they just happen to be falling apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: And the wolf was huffing and puffing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Kind of like you sometimes, grandpa.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Well, when you have COPD, it can be hard to breathe.

SIEGEL: But it's the side effects that really set the tone of prime time TV, warnings to make you fear for every organ in your body, with the strains of always cheerful, upbeat music.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Medicines like Formoterol increase the risk of death from asthma problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #4: Don't take Linzess if you have a bowel blockage. Get immediate help...

SIEGEL: Who needs "Grey's Anatomy" when graying anatomy is playing in the breaks? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.