My most vivid recollection of a patient requesting a medication he didn't need was several years ago. He had esophagitis--inflammation of the esophagus, and was taking a medication called Aciphex and as far as I knew it was working splendidly with no ill effects. When I asked him why he wanted to change to Nexium he said to me, "Well, I saw it on TV. The 'purple pill' is MUCH better than what I'm on, right?" What?!? I spent a few minutes explaining that the medication that takes care of the problem IS the best medicine, not the one that some pharmaceutical company is pushing on television.
While the drug companies argue that their "direct to consumer" advertising contains important public service information about the condition that their drugs treat, I think most of us are pretty cognizant that "public service" is NOT what those ads are all about. Worse than that, the advertisements push treatments that are more expensive than other, often equally effective medications; create anxiety in patients that think they have a disease they've never even heard of before; and the worst, give consumers the idea that "everything" can be easily treated with a pill. Got depression? Here take this pill, it'll help. Erectile dysfunction? You don't have to exercise and lose those pounds, just take this pill. Diabetes? You don't need to change your diet, just look at Paula Dean and take this pill. High cholesterol? Here's your pill, no need to worry about those extra pounds and big helpings.
I get downright huffy about the direct-to-consumer route with pharmaceutical reps (who are feeding me lunch, so I suppose some would call me hypocritical) and consider it unethical for these companies to push complicated pharmaceuticals to patients with complicated medical problems in a 60 second time slot. We have a "pill culture" in this country that is aggravated by individuals who want a quick fix for all their problems. The only "magic pill", if there is one, is exercise. Like all therapies, it will not cure everyone and people who do it still get sick. BUT exercise will make people feel better--look better--have more energy--lose weight (when coupled with dietary changes)--ache less--treat depression--increase "good" cholesterol--reduce your risk of Alzheimer's--reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease and stroke--improve sleep--the list goes on and on. If exercise DID come in a pill, people would be clamoring for it and it would probably be illegal!