Google Data Used By Big Pharma To Sell You Drugs

Google Search Data used by Pharma Giant to Bombard Users with ads for Addictive Opioids.

Big Pharma AdABC News had highlighted Munipharma, a manufacturer of highly addictive painkillers has been using data-matching techniques to track people’s Google health searches and target them with ads that increase in intensity until they respond.

  • Pharmaceutical company Mundipharma uses health searches on Google to target ads
  • The ads appear in web browsers and indirectly reference a brand of addictive oxycodone
  • The banner ads get more intense until people click on them


Pharmaceutical giant Mundipharma and marketing agency Affinity produced a marketing campaign for the drug oxycodone, which used Google’s ad searches tool to identify patients who were unhappy with their current pain medication.

As part of a pilot project in the Coffs Harbour area of New South Wales, they monitored Google searches to specifically identify patients who were looking up terms like “blocked up due to pain meds”.

After people used the search terms, the marketeers “followed them around the internet” and ran banner ads for the company’s Blocked Pipes campaign in their internet browser, which told them to “ask your doctor” about symptoms like constipation.

The advertisement indirectly referenced Targin, a blend of oxycodone and a second ingredient that relieves the digestive symptoms associated with long-term opioid use, which is common among people taking it for chronic pain.

While the advertisements did not specifically name Targin, they actively pressured people with chronic pain to ask their doctor about the product.

The banner ads got more exaggerated each time the patient ignored them, moving from phrases like “why suffer?” to “don’t ignore the problem” and “it won’t go away by itself”.

In promotional material, Affinity said the third and most alarmist advertisement in the series got the most clicks.

It was part of a broader print, radio and online campaign that ran for 18 months between July 2014 and December 2015.

The pilot project in Coffs Harbour was so successful at getting consumers interested in its product, Affinity said it would be rolled out nationally, but it ultimately only ran in Sydney.

The Coffs Harbour location was chosen because the companies were targeting “high incidence pain medication areas in regional areas”.

That is despite laws specifically banning drug companies from marketing their products direct to consumers.


‘Not a bad outcome’, ad company Affinity claims

On its website, Affinity spruiked the success of its internet campaign.

“Due to medical regulation, the results of our Coffs Harbour pilot campaign remain confidential, but needless to say, we exceeded expectations,” it stated online.

Following the ABC’s inquiries, Affinity removed the page promoting its work and said it was unable to comment because of confidentiality requirements in its agreement with Mundipharma.

Mundipharma is the sister company of Purdue Pharma, the US company facing hundreds of millions of dollars in legal action over allegations its misleading marketing practices led to the country’s opioid crisis.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mundipharma said the campaign was a “disease state awareness initiative” and was not promotional.

“A number of disease state websites and awareness initiatives are active at any given time in Australia,” he said.

He said the promotion did not reference any medications and was compliant with the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct and Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulations.

The company suggested patients who spoke to their doctor after seeing the advertisement may have also been advised to use laxatives or make changes to their dose or brand of pain medication, not necessarily use Targin.

“The agency [Affinity] description of the initiative was inaccurate and unauthorised by Mundipharma,” a spokesman said.

“We were not aware that they had referenced the initiative on their website, nor did they have permission to do so.

“Individuals were only shown sequenced advertisements for the website if they had previously visited it.” Mundipharma said the campaign ran in Coffs Harbour and Sydney.

Details about the campaign have been revealed after the ABC reported Mundipharma was using a regulatory loophole in Australia to avoid scrutiny of its marketing to general practitioners.

It was continuing to promote the use of opioids to treat chronic pain even though current science and medical guidelines suggest they should be avoided and can potentially make chronic pain worse.


The Spinal Centre Comment

If a Chiropractor ran these types of ads we would be deregistered and most likely prosecuted. Big Pharma? Hey no problems; of course they are acting in our best interests.

As young a 14 year told me in a consultation the other day when I questioned her about taking a pack of Nurofen every two weeks for her headaches; ‘they wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t good for you!’. You cannot drug your self out of structural problem.

It is interesting how drug money pollutes the hearts, livers and minds of so many with in society. The deaths associated with opioid drug use in Australia make our road toll look like a joke.

Unfortunately as a practitioner, it is becoming too dangerous to comment too much. So have a read and make your own decisions. Be careful what you search.


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