The Martian.

First of all, product placement is an advertising scheme whereby a company pays for its product to appear in a film or TV show. The concept goes way back to the days of silent movies. Once upon a time it was just a matter of trade. Show Coca-Cola in your movie and we’ll supply you with free Coca-Cola for your crew. Use a shot of our airline in your film and we’ll give you free transportation. Eventually movie studios began charging for product placements, even billing extra if the film’s star holds the product or says its name out loud. Now product placement has developed into a multi-billion-dollar per year industry. There are even annual awards for product placements.

Okay, so the movie industry has found yet another way to increase revenue. What’s so bad about that?

But once in a while product placement goes too far, and The Martian has provided us with the most extreme example yet. I’m referring to the scene in which Matt Damon, having run out of ketchup, adds Vicodin to his potatoes and, with a smile on his face, tells us that he is doing so.

Vicodin is a narcotic painkiller that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is dangerous and addictive. People who are issued prescriptions for Vicodin often become addicted and go online to supplement their prescribed doses. There is also an underground market for the drug. It is estimated that two-thirds of emergency room overdose victims in the United States took prescription opioids, the most commonly prescribed of which is Vicodin. Heroin is a distant second.

In June 2009, an FDA advisory panel voted to recommend removing Vicodin from the market because of the risk of overdose and liver damage. Needless to say, the companies that produce Vicodin were able to persuade the Obama administration to ignore this advice.

Vicodin has legitimate uses for sufferers of severe pain, but dipping your potatoes in it in place of ketchup…? Shame on Twentieth Century Fox; shame on director Ridley Scott; and shame on Matt Damon.