Remember all the commotion surrounding the first commercials for Viagra? It wasn't just the content per se that had people talking—it was also the voiceover that casually warned you to "call your doctor right away if you experience a sudden decrease in vision or an erection lasting longer than four hours." But then the airwaves were flooded with ads for a vast array of pharmaceuticals like Zoloft, Lyrica, and Humira. We started tuning out the side effects warnings the way we do car dealership caveats (blah-blah-blah-APR financing-blah-blah). But a new ad for a sleep aid has caught people's attention—the potential side effects are riveting.
The ad was for Belsomra. It sounds promising—the Merck drug targets the neurotransmitter connected to "wake messages." In the commercial, sleep is embodied by a soft, furry creature. A woman cradles it in her bed, resulting in sleep, much like being touched by the green butterfly in the Lunesta ad. But then the furry critter disappears and the woman searches the house for it, finally finding it playing with another furry being representing wakeness. She embraces her sleep pet and all is well.
Direct-to-consumer television ads for biopharmaceutical products began in the 1990s. Those disclaimers for the most significant risks have always been a part of the deal under FDA guidance. A good thing at that, considering Belsomra's disclaimers:
Do not take Belsomra if you have narcolepsy. While taking Belsomra, do not drive or operate heavy machinery until you feel fully awake. Walking, eating, driving, or engaging in other activities while asleep without remembering it the next day have been reported. Belsomra should not be taken together with alcohol. Abnormal behaviors may include aggressiveness, confusion, agitation, or hallucinations. The temporary inability to move while falling asleep or waking up and temporary leg weakness have also been reported. In depressed patients, worsening depression including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may increase these risks. Side effects include next-day drowsiness.
If that weren't bad enough, on the website, it also mentions "'sleep-walking' or doing other activities when you are asleep like eating, talking, having sex, or driving a car."
So on the one hand, you may be relieved of your insomnia—something that affects some 60 million Americans each year (Dr. Carol Ash was particularly upbeat about Belsomra's prospects last year on CBS). On the other hand, you might have suicidal thoughts, have a conversation with someone, have sex with that person, and drive around looking for a late-night snack and not remember any of it. (Carolyn Gregoire over at the Huffington Post is similarly disturbed by all this. Her post is entitled "This Sleeping Pill Commercial Is Absolutely Terrifying.")
It's enough to make you wish for the simple days of "Viva Viagra."