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Dislike Of 'Big Pharma' Reaches A New Level

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For years, polls have told us that Americans view pharmaceutical companies as a bunch of price-gouging scoundrels. Now, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey suggests this attitude has begun to color the way consumers view the companies' products and services.

In the poll, 78 percent of adults concede that prescription drugs developed during the past 20 years have exerted a "positive impact" on Americans' health and quality of life. (Thirteen percent said those drugs have had a "negative impact.") Sixty percent grant that the drug companies make a "very important" contribution to society, with an additional 31 percent saying that role has been "somewhat important." As you can gather from the chart, though, a majority of consumers now have doubts as to whether prescription drugs are worth the money. Nor is this a momentary blip of negativity. "Ratings of pharmaceutical companies' customer service have been on a decline since 1997, when almost eight in 10 (79 percent) people said drug companies generally do a 'good job' serving consumers. In 2004, for the first time, more people said drug companies generally do a 'bad job' (48 percent) than a 'good job' (44 percent) of serving consumers." With respondents to the new poll focusing on the cost of prescription drugs, just 23 percent said the drugs "help decrease overall medical costs in the U.S. by reducing the need for expensive medical procedures and hospitalizations."

If ever an industry needed an image make-over, this is the one. But one of the obvious tools for such an effort—advertising—may not have its usual efficacy in this case. Many consumers seem offended by the mere fact that drug companies spend money on ads, and they're highly skeptical of the messages those companies present. Seventy-four percent said "drug company profit margins or marketing costs are the largest contributors to the cost of prescription drugs." And just 18 percent said drug-company advertising can be trusted "most of the time."