You may have heard a commercial on the radio for a drug called Nuvigil (armodafinil). It's being promoted as an antidote to the sleepiness experienced by people who work overnight or other nontraditional hours, such as nurses, truck drivers, security guards, and bartenders.
While Nuvigil, a stimulant, is also approved for narcolepsy and excessive sleepiness due to obstructive sleep apnea (that’s already being treated), the commercial is all about the shift workers. The website invites potential users to "rediscover wakefulness" and shows photos of happy, bright-eyed night employees: a nurse, an airport ground-traffic controller, and so on. Ostensibly they've all beat their drowsiness by taking Nuvigil.
But as our latest AdWatch video shows, there’s more to the Nuvigil story than what you get from the radio ad. Modest effectiveness, potential side effects, a new drug that arrives on the scene right as a similar one from the same company is nearing the loss of its patent—it's all there.
And the wildest part is that more than half of the prescriptions written for Nuvigil's predecessor, Provigil ( modafinil), are reportedly not for its approved indications but for off-label uses, like depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or jet-lag. That may help explain why the drug became such a blockbuster and what its manufacturer stands to gain by extending its life via the new drug Nuvigil. Especially when you consider the drugs' price tags: around $350 a month for Nuvigil, and now more than $600 a month for Provigil (perhaps another way to encourage people to switch to Nuvigil before Provigil becomes a cheaper generic).
Watch the story behind Nuvigil's radio spot, and learn more about Nuvigil and its predecessor, Provigil.
—Jamie Kopf Hirsh, associate editor
Do you know anyone who’s taken Provigil or Nuvigil for off-label reasons? Tell us about it.