Top 7 Celebrity Drug Endorsements: Commercial or a Cause?

Top 7 Celebrity Drug Endorsements: Commercial or a Cause?

People love their celebrities and advertisers love their power to sell virtually anything: makeup, clothes, sports drinks, even remedies for irritable bowel syndrome.

For years celebrities have traditionally sold products such as cars, perfumes or financial services. Others have used their fame to help non-commercial or political causes such as ending wars, poverty or illiteracy.

But in recent years, many celebrities have found a controversial new way of making money: raising awareness of serious public health issues in arrangements that often include indirectly endorsing over-the- counter or prescription drugs.

Public relations specialists and drug industry watchdog groups have long debated whether discreet ties between celebrities and pharmaceutical companies are beneficial or harmful.

"It's like anything else; you don't have to listen, you don't have to take this drug, you don't have to see this particular doctor," said Amy Doner, founder of the Amy Doner Group, a celebrity-pharmaceutical consulting company.

Doner says she has connected Cindy Crawford, Anjelica Huston, Sally Fields and others to pharmaceutical companies' drug advertising campaigns. She said at the very least, the celebrities may inspire people to get more screenings and checkups for common and often treatable medical conditions.

"They're really there just to urge and encourage people who may not otherwise get up and do those things," said Doner.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates information in drug commercials, but a celebrity raising awareness about a disease is a different story. During an interview or a news conference, or even on a television commercial, celebrities are free to talk about a medical condition with few restrictions -- even a requirement to name the drug company funding their speech.

"It's perfectly legal; it's just completely immoral," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group. Wolfe worries that patients will ask for a pill because the celebrity appealoutweighs the side effects or risks.

"It just keeps happening over again," he said.

Indeed, other industry watchdogs worry about what the campaigns can do to a person's understanding about a disease, not just a drug.

"With a lot of the diseases there is some genuine feeling at the heart of it, but what happens is that the celebrity gets hooked in and start spouting some of [the] exaggerated claims that the drug companies use," said Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and author of the book "Selling Sickness."

Cassels said he often sees exaggerated phrases like "millions of women have" or "millions of men" when someone is raising awareness for a fee.

"They exaggerate what I call the prevalence," said Cassels. "Another name for that is disease mongering."

Even when not exaggerated, Cassels said at the very least, it can be hard for an audience to tell the difference between a clear-cut disease awareness campaign and a campaign funded by a pharmaceutical company.

For better or worse, the following is a short list of celebrities who have used their fame to raise awareness for a disease and have received fees from a pharmaceutical company.

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