Lisa Bloomquist

Lipstick on a Pig: Stelara’s Unethical Ads

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This 2014 commercial for Stelara is deplorable:

This commericial a disgusting example of everything that is wrong about pharmaceutical advertisements. It appeals to viewers’ vanity and insecurity – which we all possess – in order to sell a dangerous drug. The drug advertised, Stelara (a Johnson & Johnson product), causes cancer. The FDA warning label for Stelara notes that it can cause cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, prostate, melanoma and breast and cancers, each of which can lead to death. It suppresses the immune system and leaves those who take it susceptible to dangerous infections, which can also lead to death.

Apparently it needs to be said, because there isn’t uproar and disgust in the general public over this wretched ad (and others like it for immunosuppressive drugs)–it is WRONG to utilize the same slimy sales techniques used to sell cosmetics in order to sell dangerous drugs that can severely hurt people and lead to their death. It is wrong to prey on people’s vanity and insecurity in order to sell them something that can hurt or even kill them. It is wrong to promote the frivolous and inappropriate use of a dangerous drug.

A drug like Stelara, that suppresses the immune system and can cause cancer, should not be used lightly and it is not even remotely appropriate to use it in order to have clearer skin. Just listen to the ad, “In a medical study, seven out of ten Stelara patients saw at least 75% clearer skin at twelve weeks.” Look at the model living a glamorous lifestyle, being adored, and flaunting her perfect skin, hair and body. This ad isn’t about helping people with plaque psoriasis, it’s about vanity and aspiration. It’s about selling a product and greed. It is not appropriate, and it even crosses the line of being wrong, to use manipulation and vanity to sell pharmaceuticals–especially pharmaceuticals that can cause cancer and death.

As is the case with all pharmaceutical ads, the risks associated with using Stelara are downplayed. At the end of the ad, after the marketers have thoroughly convinced the viewers (at least on a subconscious level) that if only they took Stelara they would look like the glamorous model in the commercial, a list of the most severe adverse effects is given. These risks include lowering one’s ability to fight infections, increasing one’s risk of cancer, headaches, seizures, vision problems, serious allergic reactions, and it is also stated that patients should, “tell your doctor if you, or anybody in your house needs or has recently received a vaccine.”

Do other people find that warning about not being around people who have recently been vaccinated to be concerning? It certainly piqued my interest when I first heard it. It made me wonder, “What is THAT about??” It made me wonder WHY people who are on Stelara shouldn’t be around those who have recently been vaccinated.

The written warning label for Stelara goes into a little more detail. It states, “People who take STELARA® should not receive live vaccines. Tell your doctor if anyone in your house needs a vaccine. The viruses used in some types of vaccines can spread to people with a weakened immune system, and can cause serious problems. You should not receive the BCG vaccine during the one year before taking STELARA® or one year after you stop taking STELARA®.”

Live vaccines include MMR (measles, mumps and rubella combined), chickenpox, nasally administrated flu, and rotavirus vaccines.

Additionally, recent studies have revealed that the whooping cough / pertussis vaccine can be spread from those who are vaccinated to those who are not vaccinated. A story published in the New York Times noted that, “’When you’re newly vaccinated (with the whooping cough / pertussis vaccine) you are an asymptomatic carrier, which is good for you, but not for the population,’ said Tod J. Merkel, the lead author of the study, who is a researcher in the Office of Vaccines Research and Review in the Food and Drug Administration.”

There is nothing okay about a vaccine spreading the disease that it is supposed to protect against. It is entirely indefensible. If a vaccine spreads disease it should be removed from the market. Try again, pharma companies that make live and whooping cough / pertussis vaccines. Not all vaccines spread the diseases that they are trying to prevent, so there must be some techniques and technologies that can keep that from occurring. Make it so, because endangering those who have suppressed immune systems is not acceptable.

Immune system suppressing drugs like Stelara, Humira, Enbrel, Remicade and others, are used by millions of people every day (it is estimated that 20% of the American population has an autoimmune disease, the diseases that these cancer-causing drugs are supposed to make more manageable). Everyone on an immunosuppressive therapy has a weakened immune system and is susceptible to catching a disease from someone who has recently received a live vaccine (or the pertussis/whooping cough vaccine). However, the people taking immune-suppressive drugs like Stelara aren’t the only ones who have compromised immune systems. Pregnant woman have compromised immune systems, so do people who are HIV positive or have AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, and many others.

The combination of live, virus containing, vaccines, along with a large portion of the population taking immunosuppressive drugs, may make the spread of diseases throughout the US population more common in the future. Unvaccinated people will be blamed, but perhaps more of the blame should sit with the pharmaceutical companies that are making billions off of suppressing people’s immune systems ($6.1 billion in immunosuppressive drugs like Stelara were sold in 2012 alone) and selling live virus vaccines.

Projections of diseases being spread through a population that is immune-suppressed are conjecture. It is not conjecture, however, that dangerous drugs are being sold via immoral marketing techniques. If it were demanded that there be truth in advertising, Tony’s story would be the advertisement one would see for Stelara:

Though Tony’s story is tragic, at least it is real. Pharmaceutical advertisements are not real. We all know, on some level, that pharmaceutical advertisements are not real. Perhaps it’s time we get angry about these types of commercials. Anger may even lead to change. At the very least, it’s time to get educated about the real risks associated with heavily marketed medications. The risks are real. The ads are not.

About the Author: Lisa Bloomquist was “Floxed” on her 32nd birthday by Cipro, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. After 2 years of battling the mysterious health ailments that come with an adverse reaction to a fluoroquinolone, she has fought her way back to health. She is now fighting for recognition of the harm that these drugs can cause and hoping to help those who are suffering from them through their fluoroquinolone induced illness to find recovery. Her web site, Floxie Hope, highlights stories of hope and recovery. Mito Madness, also started by Lisa, focuses on the absurdity of ignoring the role of mitochondria in forming disease models.

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Lisa Bloomquist was "Floxed" on her 32nd birthday by Cipro, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. After 2 years of battling the mysterious health ailments that come with an adverse reaction to a fluoroquinolone, she has fought her way back to health. Lisa is now fighting for recognition of the harm that these drugs can cause and hoping to help those who are suffering from them through their fluoroquinolone induced illness to find recovery. Her web site, highlighting stories of hope and recovery, is After a while of studying how fluoroquinolones damage mitochondria, she noted that mitochondria were being systematically ignored when forming disease models. She started to bring attention to the role that mitochondria play in health and disease.


  1. While I can appreciate the fact that you have had MAJOR reactions to medications, to say that medications like Otezla, Stelara and Humira are not even “remotely appropriate” to utilize to clear skin is an inaccurate statement. These medications (immunosuppressants) are not for people who have a small patch of psoriasis on their hand, head or scalp. These are for those of us with over 75% of our skin covered in it. I’ve not read all your posts, but I have to question whether you have ever suffered from life inhibiting psoriasis yourself. Avoiding bending over all day every day because the scales on your back would break and bleed? Being unable to work because your body is deemed unhygienic or down right gross? Did you spend day after day in the tub because that was the only way you got any relief? By literally soaking your skin off? To me, it doesn’t sound like it. As a person who has suffered with these situations, this advert NEVER made me dream of living this models beautiful lifestyle jet setting around or whatever. It didn’t cater to my “vanity.” This ad gave me HOPE. Hope that I could be normal, start to live a real life again, be free from pain and judgement and just live happily. Are there side effects? Of course. Some quite terrible, as you mentioned above. However, after doing my research and discussing all available treatment options, I did decide that for me, the benefits outweighed the risks. And you know what? Six months later and all I have is some minimal peeling on my palms and very slight and occasional scaling on the heel of one of my feet.
    I get where you’re coming from since you’ve had terrible side effects from meds in the past, but please don’t write such inflammatory articles. Anyone who has even a slightly professional medical team is going to be told all possible side effects. And everyone should always do their own research before starting new major medications.
    As I said, I get where you are getting your outrage from, but please don’t act as if people with debilitating psoriasis are only being vain in wanting clearer skin. We all start with creams, the ointments, etc and then if we have to we move up the medication ladder. No normal and competent derm is going to take a psoriasis patient who has never tried the standard meds and slap them on Stelara.
    I just found that the tone of this article was condescending. It’s not vanity nor insecurities that drove me to take immunosuppressive medications. It was quality of life. And I think it’s pretty common knowledge that if you’re going to take a drug that lowers your ability to fight off infections, then you should probably not do things to court getting infections.

    • Thank you for your comment and insight, Amanda. My objection is to the ads as much as, if not more than, the medication itself – and my attack is certainly not meant for the people who use it. I find the ad to be obnoxious and even belittling of people who need to use a serious medication for a serious condition. I’m glad that you found it be hopeful.

      I wish you the best in treating your psoriasis, and I hope that you don’t suffer from any of the side-effects of the medication.

      Lisa (the author)

  2. Ok i have been on stelara have the pics of my bloody feet and hands i kept everything for disability.

    So far
    Otezla (current)

    I am sure i have been on others, i got ehat they thought was shingles on my buttocks when i took methotrexate and stelara together, they took a year to heal even infectious disease had no idea what it was. They went away then appeared on arms legs breasts butt again, i had enough and demanded the next dermatologist to do an actual biopsy which she was shocked after 2 yrs no one had. It was PICKERS NODULES or HYDES disease and October of 2016 i was in so much pain on my otezma and 6-8 Percocet a day my rheumatologist put me on 20 mg prednisone and 20mg oxy 4 times a day, 2 days of no Percocet i felt like a completely different person i felt amazing, motivated no anxiety no pain and clear skin no more lesions, the ones i had healed, well that lasted a month and a half then back to 5 mg prednisone with all other meds the same and back to deep depression, fatigue rash on tops of hands no clue, here is the rest of my syory

    Ok i am extremely upset! I have been on/off this drug over a year, last yr around this time i got a horrible rash on my hands on tops down to wrists, pain my my breasts that is unbearable with 4 swollen lumps, i was set to go for a mamo and ultrasound but my breasts hurt so much I couldn’t imagine them squashing my dense breasts no way! Then the depression the past year of wanting to hide away in my room away from my family and wishing I don’t wake up and no explanation as to why! I has Palmer pustular plaque psoriasis and psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis as well as fibro, well my last visit i told my dr and he for the first time in 6-7 yrs was very flippant saying see my general practitioner which he knows full well he treats me for everything because of all the autoimmune diseases so knows I don’t have another dr. I also am on oxycodone 20mg 4 x day, 10mg prednisone and .25 aderall, and hydroxine for itching.

    I decided to do my own expiriment and stop the drug, well first off i knew my psoriasis would come back on my palms and soles, i figured ok some arthritis pain but hey i have pain meds, OMG i was in for a shock! Ok the plus side of 7 days off was my breasts quickly withjn 2 days stopped hurting and i can only find the original 2 lumps i have been monitored for yrs, my depression also gone! Now the bad parts, as expected my palms flared up my soles also but not as bad, but i got new pain i never in my life had all through my lower back, i also have costochondritis in my upper right thoracic area, it swelled immediately between the two ribs and by day 3 it was across the back of my neck then traveled down my body around my waist all the way to my hips, i was taking 5 plus 20 mg oxy a day to no relief, i used ice, heat, bengay until i finally gave in and started the trial pack of otezla i had and here i am day 5 and boobs hurt swollen, depressed and no costo or joint pain no hip pain that was so bad i was gasping for breath. But hands on the palms at least are clear and my feet almost!

    I don’t know what is going on but reading your article i see that you should not take otezla and nsaids! I am allergic to acetaminophen and in the past nsaids game me a bad reaction also hence straight oxy, i got Hydes disease from percocet and am covered in dark scars. Its horrible i now find myself getting upset, i have lost tons of my hair and my dr who once said “its patients like you that keep me in business” seems to not give a crap! I do have an appt with a new rheumatologist but with how so many people abuse opiods i am truly concerned a new dr will think i am shopping, it should be obvious i am not since i could just stay with this dr and get my (120) 20mg oxy a month forever if i want but when i was not on the otezla that week i felt pain in places i never had pain yet these strong meds seemed to do very very little, i had to resort to a cane and my husband had to take fmla days to help with getting my daughter to and from school 1/4 mile away 🙁

    I don’t understand everything you wrote about in regards to floxies and found you by googling my issues with otezla

    If you could help me a bit i would appreciate it

    • I completely understand how you feel! I finally weaned myself off of all medications for psoriasis, only to learn that I had “medication induced psoriasis”! Many drugs can cause it, such as beta blockers, antibiotics that disrupt gut flora, and others. I found a naturopathic doctor and worked with a doctor that specializes in integrative nutrition. I am finally clear of psoriasis for over 2 years. It is so important to research all medications first and to eliminate processed foods from your diet, while focusing on rebuilding your gut flora with “good bacteria”. One website that helped (besides this one!) is
      Good luck!!!!

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