Please Don’t Take Prescription Drug Advice from Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian's recent Instagram post promoting a morning sickness medication she had never tried.

(Screenshot capture of Kardashian's Instagram post)

Where would you turn if you wanted the best advice about trying a new drug? A doctor with years of specialized training? A website with opinions from leading experts in the field? Maybe a review article by a trustworthy medical reporter. Or, maybe even go right to the source — an article about the drug in the peer-reviewed medical literature.

Or you could choose to get advice from someone whose education ended with high school and who almost certainly has had no training in pharmacology or scientific methodology. In America the answer is, sadly, the high school graduate if he or she is a huge celebrity.

Kardashian appears to have blessed a drug she never used and had no basis to endorse.

Drug manufacturers know this. They turn to celebrities, no matter how ignorant, ill-informed, money grubbing or air-headed, to pitch their goods directly to you on TV and the internet.

The latest example of this reliance on the utterly unqualified is the use of the surgically reengineered, reality show TV star Kim Kardashian to endorse a pill for women suffering from morning sickness during pregnancy. Kim, whose science training, whatever it was, ended when she graduated California's Marymount high school, recently offered this assessment of the medication:

"You know how sick I was while pregnant; I could barely get out of bed. That was before I found a safe & effective med to treat my morning sickness when diet & lifestyle changes didn't help. I hear there's a new formulation of the drug combination I took that's made to work faster & longer. If you're pregnant & feeling sick & changing your diet & lifestyle doesn't work, ask your doctor about Bonjesta® (doxylamine succinate/pyridoxine HCl). Most common side effect is drowsiness. for info."

She appears to have blessed a drug she never used and had no basis to endorse. And whether she got all the possible important side effects out there is not clear. In 2015, her internet post lauding another morning sickness drug, Diclegis, made by the same company, Duchesnay, now pushing Bonjesta, earned her $500,000 and Duchesnay a warning letter from the FDA for false and misleading advertising. Duchesnay dealt with the FDA and went on its merry way coming up with new meds relying on confirmation of their value by Kim.

Artificial demand creates more expense downstream for insurers, payer programs, and patients.

It seems pretty likely she was handsomely paid for her kind words about Bonjesta--payment that, if it occurred, is not disclosed in her endorsement or in most commercials in which celebrities tout drugs, vaccines and devices.

Legislators and patients often wonder why the cost of drugs in America is so high relative to the rest of the world. Well, one reason is the rest of the world does not tolerate direct-to-consumer ads aimed at ginning up demand when touted by actors, soap opera stars, sports stars, reality tv icons, quiz show hosts and others selling their fame so you will use a company's drug. Increasing the demand through celebrity endorsement allows companies to jack up their prices. Duchesnay did just that! Artificial demand creates more expense downstream for insurers, payer programs, and patients.

We treat marketing drugs on a par with marketing cosmetics, dishwashers, and fast food. And we get what Kim and other media celebs are paid for: useless information from unqualified sources who can grab eyeballs and get you to pester your doctor about what your idols say works.

Arthur Caplan
Dr. Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. Prior to coming to NYU School of Medicine, Dr. Caplan was the Sidney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he created the Center for Bioethics and the Department of Medical Ethics. Caplan has also taught at the University of Minnesota, where he founded the Center for Biomedical Ethics, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University. He is the author or editor of thirty-five books and over 725 papers in peer reviewed journals. His most recent books are The Ethics of Sport (Oxford University Press, 2016 with Brendan Parent), and Vaccination Ethics and Policy (MIT Press, 2017 with Jason Schwartz).
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