Patient demand for specific prescription medications is a growing phenomenon. In a social context, this demand has been influenced greatly by changes in pharmaceutical marketing, in the amount and nature of medication information directly accessible to patients, and in the ways in which "drug discoveries" are reported in the mass media. Knowledge, attitudes and behaviors involving medications are often based on the perceptions that people hold regarding specific drug products. Great differences in these perceptions can occur between patients and health care professionals (Montagne, 2001; 1996).
Mass Media and Perceptions of Drugs and Drug Use
Prescription drug use is an everyday occurrence for most people. Knowledge creates perceptions about medications and the intent to use them to solve health problems. What is the impact of various sources of information, including mass media, on the creation of perceptions about drugs and drug use?
Collective social knowledge has become instrumental in the development and transmission of perceptions about prescription medications, including psychoactive drugs (Montagne, 2001, 1996). Social knowledge refers to the collective accumulation of information and past experiences about a specific topic. What an individual or group of drug-users knows about drugs from reading information, listening to the media and promotional campaigns, receiving descriptions of others' experiences, and recalling their own previous experiences, will affect the actual use of drugs (Montagne, 2001; 1996).
Social knowledge also has a symbolic component (Montagne, 2001; 1996). The nature and meaning of drug use often is described, remembered and transmitted through society in symbolic form, as images, representations or metaphors. The imagery and symbolism in advertising and mass media sometimes suggest to patients that a specific medication promises to solve health and life problems in magical ways.
In addition to reports in the mass media, including electronic media, perceptions about drugs are derived through advertising (Montagne, 1992). In the United States, direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) is increasingly popular, wherein the availability and characteristics of a prescription drug product are promoted to the general public through mass media. These advertisements inform or increase awareness about certain diseases and the availability of treatment options.
It is estimated that the number of prescriptions written in the United States will increase from 2.9 billion to an estimated 4 billion by 2004, which includes an increase in the number of prescriptions for psychiatric medications. Anecdotally, pharmacists have reported that the day or two after a news story or new DTCA for a medication comes out, they will see a massive increase in the number of prescriptions for that specific medication.
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