In my opinion, there can be no justification for allowing drug companies to advertise drugs directly to consumers. Drug advertising aimed at consumers referred to as direct-to-consumer (D-T-C) ads reached $4.5 billion last year. Reportedly, this sort of thing will face hard scrutiny in the new Congress. Industry critics in both the House and Senate are quite numerous and that’s good news for consumers. The consumer ads will be scrutinized early in this session.
The pharmaceutical industry, which has pretty much gotten what it asked for from Congress and the Bush White House, won’t give up without a fight. This powerful industry has piles of money and doesn’t mind spending it. Clearly, the FDA should ban all D-T-C ads. Criticism of this type advertising has intensified since 2004. It started after Merck withdrew Vioxx. The false and misleading ads by Merck promoting Vioxx were about as bad as it gets. Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, an organization of large employers, stated:
From the beginning, everyone, including the company, agreed that not everybody ought to be getting Vioxx. But the ads implied there was a widespread need for it.
Spending on consumer drug advertising has grown from $1.1 billion in 1997 to $4.2 billion in 2005, according to a recent report to Congress by the Government Accountability Office. In the first nine months of 2006, spending rose 8.4% to $3.29 billion, on track toward $4.5 billion for the year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, an advertising research firm. Spending on the ads declined in 2005. Two independent government watchdog groups sharply criticized consumer drug advertising recently, and a separate survey commissioned by the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting and consulting firm indicated that skepticism is widespread among the public. Only 1 in 10 consumers said the direct-to-consumer, ads could provide useful information to a large audience, according to the survey. Interestingly, consumer drug advertising is not permitted in most of the world – with the two exceptions being New Zealand and the United States.
People who have a need for a prescription drug should get their information concerning the proper drug from a doctor and a pharmacist – not from some slick television ad. Patients deserve the best and most accurate information about the medicines they take. An essential part of any drug safety proposal must be to give the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority and resources it needs to oversee direct-to-consumer advertising. If there isn’t a ban, at least there must be limits on any D-T-C advertising that the FDA allows. Protecting the public health has to be the top priority. I don’t buy the First Amendment argument that the pharmaceutical industry has presented. They say banning truthful speech, even for a period of time, must be carefully considered before Congress should start legislating in this area. What about the grossly misleading ads – should those be protected?
Last November the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the FDA should be doing a better job of overseeing consumer drug ads. The FDA reviews only a small fraction of the advertising, picking and choosing without proper priorities, according to the GAO. FDA officials have said they had to deal with 54,000 drug promotions each year, aimed at both doctors and consumers. It’s time for a total ban!
Source: New York Times
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