Paula Deen and Misleading Marketing
There’s been more than enough said about celebrity chef Paula Deen (the proud parent of the glazed donut, hamburger patty, fried egg, and bacon sandwich) and her recent admission that she has had type 2 diabetes for several years — and that she’s being compensated by Novo Nordisk for pitching the diabetes medication she’s on, Victoza (liraglutide). But there’s not been sufficient attention to the fact that Novo Nordisk is working hard to warp the public into thinking that Victoza is “the” drug for diabetes by repeatedly sending the message that Ms. Deen is on it, and by not providing her with appropriate information about the drug, the options, and appropriate diabetes treatment.
First of all, let me make it clear that despite what Ms. Dean told DiabetesMine.com, Victoza is definitely NOT the drug of choice for diabetes. Ms. Dean commented that “I have medical friends outside of this pharma company, and one of my dear friends is a doctor. I’m close to her and I trust her. She says this particular medication is the one that she puts all her patients on.” Ms. Dean apparently is totally unaware that the right there on the homepage of the new Novo Nordisk website (Diabetes in a New Light) it says: “Victoza ® is not recommended as the first medication to treat diabetes.”
And Ms. Dean is clearly unaware that Victoza is associated with thyroid cancer and pancreatitis (again quoting DiabetesMine’s interview): “Were you aware that the FDA issued a safety warning on that drug?” “Oh gosh, it has? I may have been told, but everything - all my meds - come with different warnings these days.” “Not just a label warning about side effects, but a warning about possible risks of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis…” “They may have mentioned that…”
“They” (both her personal physician and the Novo Nordisk marketers) should definitely have mentioned that. Celebrity spokespeople are being paid to say good things about the products they endorse, but I think that if they are endorsing life-saving drugs with life-threatening side effects, they should be held to a higher standard than if they are endorsing basketball sneakers. It would have been helpful for her own diabetes care team, or Novo Nordisk if necessary, to teach Ms. Dean some of the diabetes facts of life before turning her loose for interviews. Like the importance of blood glucose testing - I can’t find any mention of it at the new NN website.
And Novo Nordisk should have asked Ms. Dean to make it clear whether she had been on an appropriate trial of metformin before starting a second-line diabetes drug. For years, metformin has been the first-line drug for treating T2DM, and if Ms. Dean ever was on it, I’d like the website to explain what happened: if it “didn’t work” for whatever reason (side effects or lack of efficacy), then it would be clearer why her physician chose a second-line drug that’s way more expensive, requires injection, and has major unresolved concerns about safety.
Another point: Victoza costs several hundred dollars per month, according to people posting at on-line diabetes forums. Metformin is inexpensive, and actually free at some pharmacies. Which is another reason to appropriately choose the first drug used to treat diabetes…
One can sense that by using Ms. Deen to endorse their diabetes drug, Novo Nordisk is subliminally sending a very dangerous message: eat as much junk as you want. Then, just take their hideously expensive drug to fix the resulting disease.
I think there’s still time for Novo Nordisk to revise their misleading message. But I’m not holding my breath.
Bill Quick, M.D., is a physician who is living with diabetes. He is the editor of www.D-is-for-Diabetes.com. Dr. Quick wrote about diabetes for HealthCentral.