Abilify? More like Debilify

Raina Moran

Claudia Wang

HLED 113

Prescription Drugs




The links to two of Abilify’s advertisements are as follows: https://youtu.be/tGymr78FtbU and https://youtu.be/MBcfySXbz3k.

I chose this ad because I personally have seen Abiliy’s drug advertisements on many television commercials and even on internet advertisements. Saturday Night Live even did a parody for Abilify in relation to current politicians running for the presidential election.  I was actually quite shocked when I first saw this advertisement for Abilify and for a few reasons which I will explain. What first caught my attention was the very extensive list of side-effects related to the consumption of Abilify. The side-effects were read off by a narrator while the cartoon character representing the patient was picking apples and seemingly enjoying life. The side-effects ranged from increasing thoughts of suicide to permanent uncontrollable muscle movement and even coma or death. The list went on and on. What really bothered me most about Abilify is that this is a drug that is meant to be taken in conjunction with an antidepressant, but it can increase thoughts of suicide and depression. Another reason why I chose this specific drug is because of its very misleading and deceptive cartoon advertisements.




Abilify was created by a company called Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company. According to Otsuka’s website on a page that was last updated in October of last year, it states that a man named Busaburo Otsuka created the company ‘Otsuka’ in 1921 in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan and had a total of ten employees. Since being established in the early 1920s, Otsuka has now expanded its headquarters to various locations across the globe including America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Canada, and the Middle East. According to their website, Otsuka is now a network of approximately 150 companies and has employed more than 150,000 people worldwide. It is safe to assume that Otsuka is a massive global corporation.


When Otsuka first went into production they were manufacturing chemical raw materials. Over the course of production, Otsuka started selling pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals (“nutrition” + “pharmaceuticals”) and today have many other drugs on the market to treat various symptoms and illnesses. Otsuka’s corporate philosophy goes as follows, “Otsuka – people creating new products for better health worldwide.” According to a message written by the current President of Otsuka on Otsuka’s webpage, he states that Otsuka is actively developing major innovations that will potentially meet future needs of advancing societies.  He also went on to say that Otsuka prioritizes maintaining and enhancing current everyday health for people, while simultaneously helping to cure diseases with their products.




I recall seeing this advertisement on daytime television frequently while in high school and college. I have also seen this advertisement on YouTube and in multiple magazines ranging from publications like Women’s Health, People, and Health magazine. Abilify has multiple cartoon advertisements and hired actor advertisements displaying mostly middle-aged, female patients that struggle to go about their day. I scoured the internet for all of Abilify’s advertisements and I could not find one single advertisement with a male character as the patient with depression or bipolar disorder. I feel as though Abilify’s main target were women with full-time jobs and especially for women who stayed at home to care of their kids or the house.

Initially, I was not entirely sure why women were targeted, maybe because it is more socially acceptable for women to talk about the feelings and emotions? Maybe because women would be more inclined to ask their doctor about Ability? My questions were answered in an article I found in the New York Times. According to author and psychiatrist Julie Holland in her article titled “Medicating Women’s Feelings” written on February 28, 2015, Julie stated that 1 in 4 women take psychiatric medicine compared to 1 in 7 men. Julie went on to say that women are almost two times more likely than men to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression. With this information, it is no wonder that all of Ability’s advertisements are targeting women.




The active ingredient in Abilify is aripiprazole. Aripiprazole chemical composition is 7-[4-[4-(2,3dichlorophenyl)-1-piperazinyl]butoxy]-3,4-dihydrocarbostyril. The empirical formula is C23H27Cl2N3O2and its molecular weight is 448.38. Pictured below is the chemical structure.

Tim Newman, author for Medical New Today, wrote an article titled “Aripiprazole (Abilify): Side Effects, Drug Information,” on December 18, 2015 stating that aripiprazole is atypical antipsychotic that works by blocking or binding to

various receptors. Some receptors this drug effects are serotonin, adrenergic, serotonin, muscarinic acetylcholine, and histamines. It also effects some transporter proteins.

Abilify (aripiprazole) was first approved by the FDA in 2002 for treating patients with schizophrenia. In 2012, Abilify was approved to help treat patients with depression as an add-on for antidepressants. There is a long list of side-effects for consuming aripiprazole, including but not limited to, headaches, drowsiness, constipation, irregular heart-beat, tightening of neck muscles and throat, chest pain, seizures, uncontrollable muscle movements, low white blood cell count, confusion, and even coma or death. In patients ranging in age from 77-88 with dementia, research found an increased risk of death with the consumption of aripiprazole in those patients.

One of the most alarming things about aripiprazole is that is not quite known how it works. This drug was designed entirely off of the dopamine hypothesis. Again, according to Tim from Medical News Today, it states that, “The dopamine hypothesis predicts that dopamine hyperactivity in the mesolimbic pathways of the brain (also known as reward pathways) causes delusions, hallucinations and disorganized thoughts.” So, based off this hypothesis, it is thought that if a patient with schizophrenia has a decrease in their dopamine levels in the reward pathways, the patient will experience less symptoms of schizophrenia.




Otsuka pushed out a lot of advertisements for Abilify, ranging from daytime television, YouTube, and magazines. I searched the internet to see how much was spent on advertising for Abilify but came up empty-handed. What I do know is that in 2015, over $7 billion was made in sales for Abilify (Reidbord 2015). I am pretty confident that almost everyone has seen an Abilify advertisement, the most popular being the cartoon character commercials. The use of visual imagery played a huge role in those advertisements. In one advertisement for Abilify, it had a blue robe playing the role of the woman’s depression. The blue robe would be lurking around the woman and then suddenly be worn on the woman, signifying that depression got the best of her. Similarly, in another ad, depression was played by a blue umbrella that would rain on the woman when held in her hand. Each advertisement had persuasive imagery and followed the same script. The patient would always claim that the only regret they had was not talking to their doctor sooner about taking Abilify. While an extremely long list of side-effects is read off, the patient is shown enjoying life with her family. One advertisement showed the woman happily picking apples and another had the woman cooking a barbeque with her family. Surprisingly, the side-effects were read off slowly enough to hear, but I think many people were distracted by the imagery on the screen to actually understand the implications of taking this drug. Light-hearted music plays in the background while serious, life-threatening conditions related to consuming Abilify are read off as it were no big deal. In other advertisements, a woman character is shown walking around in gloomy weather when talking about her depression. After she talks to her doctor about Ability and begins taking the drug, the woman is shown smiling and taking pictures with her family.




Based on what I have read about Abilify, and even from their own commercials and advertisements, I would NEVER recommend this drug to a good friend or a family member. I wouldn’t even recommend it to someone I am not particularly fond of. I just do not see the point of taking Abilify with an antidepressant when the drug itself can increase symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. Not to mention that each individual pill retails at $30. It is incredibly expensive and non-sustainable. I do not think that there has been enough research done towards the long-term effects of taking an antipsychotic like Abilify. New lawsuits are emerging stating that many patients who have taken Abilify now display impulsive urges and behaviors such as gambling, according to an article written by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein Law Firm.

I personally believe that side-effects of taking Abilify far outweigh the benefits. The question becomes would you rather have depression or uncontrollable muscles movements. It actually shocks me that a drug with such serious side-effects is advertised to consumers on national television. This is information that doctors should know and not something patients should be asking their doctors about. Overall, I consider this drug to be highly profitable to the company who created it and highly detrimental to anyone’s health who consumes it.



History of Otsuka. (October 2016). Retrieved December 6, 2017, from: https://www.otsuka-us.com/discover/our-history

Holland, J. (February 28, 2015). Medicating Women’s Feelings. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/medicating-womens-feelings.html

Kopf, J. H. (July 30, 2009). Adwatch: Abilify finds lucrative new audience. Consumer Report. Retrieved from: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2009/07/adwatch-abilify-finds-lucrative-new-audience/index.htm

Newman, T. (December 18, 2015). Aripiprazole (Abilify): Side Effects, Drug Information. Medicalnewstoday.com. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248385.php

Reidbord, S. (March 8, 2015). America’s top selling drug is an antipsychotic. Retrieved from: http://blog.stevenreidbordmd.com/?p=1002

Lieff, C. H., & Bernstein. (October 2016). Retrieved from: https://www.lieffcabraser.com/injury/drugs/abilify-gambling/?gclid=CjwKCAiAx57RBRBkEiwA8yZdUDpRanNk8aLMxmeQlSKtM-t6m4UkmiaZyU7LIJ8yvww3wP7vmsUvnRoCJX8QAvD_BwE

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