The Department of Justice has joined federal lawmakers in seeking information about why it took drug makers so long to report the negative results of a study of the cholesterol drug Vytorin. Executives from Merck and Schering Plough, who make and market the drug in a joint venture, testified before House lawmakers at a congressional hearing last month. The drug companies were defending their decision to continue to promote the drug in ads after a study revealed that it was no more effective than the lower-cost generic Zocor. Three television ads were discontinued after being criticized by some lawmakers as potentially misleading consumers. The study was completed in 2006, but the companies didn’t release the results until this past January. Rep. Bart Stupa (D-MI), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee, is considering new restrictions to “protect American consumers from manipulative commercials.” I commend him for his concern and for his willingness to protect the public.
The Justice Department is also looking into the matter and has requested interviews and documents on Vytorin from the companies. Merck and Schering halted television marketing for Vytorin after releasing the study results in January, but Rep. Stupak believes their action came too late. I agree with the Michigan lawmaker when he says “many consumers may not have taken Vytorin had they been aware of the study results.” It’s obvious that television ads for a number of drugs mislead the public. While in my opinion there can be no way to justify any television ads for pharmaceutical products, certainly misleading ads can’t be tolerated. I don’t believe the doctors who prescribe drugs and the pharmacists who fill the prescriptions favor television ads for drugs. Hopefully, this issue will eventually be handled by Congress. If so, the public will be protected as a result.
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