If you weren’t paying close attention to the simple black-and-white television advertisement that ran midway through the second quarter of Super Bowl 50, you’d never know what it was about.
It featured no celebrities. No laugh lines. It wasn’t selling beer. It wasn’t selling soda. Or cars. Or chips. Or a new movie.
That’s the kind of All-American advertising expected during the annual Super Bowl ritual, where 30-second spots this year reportedly went for $5 million each.
No, this ad was about opioid-induced constipation:
And honestly, it deserves its coveted spot during America’s Big Game.
That’s because America really loves its opioid painkillers -- so much so that the country faces a major opioid overdose epidemic, which has become a focus for health authorities, the White House, even candidates out on the presidential campaign trail.
In 2014, there were nearly 19,000 overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers – almost twice the number of deaths attributed to heroin, opioid’s chemical cousin.
While painkillers are vital – lifesaving even -- for people living with chronic pain, some officials worry that the pills are too easily dispensed. Sales of prescription painkillers in 2010 were four times higher than a decade earlier, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Today, health care providers write more than 250 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s a lot of pills. And the popularity of this prescription has opened the door to another – a pill to tackle opioid’s side effect: Constipation.
The TV ad never mentions the drug’s name. That’s probably because the name is a mouthful: Movantik. The drug, made by AstraZeneca, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September 2014.
The ads started running in August 2015, just as a new football season kicked off.
Different versions of the ad have run most Sundays, including throughout the playoffs – and now the Super Bowl.
Prescription drug advertising during football games is not new. Viagra and Cialis have been posting spots for years, splicing in mentions of what to do if your erection lasts more than four hours amid calls to buy a new truck or use a certain credit card.
But an ad for opioid-induced constipation is different.
It's a sure sign of just how pervasive painkillers have become.