Curbing Drug Ads

The effort is receiving scant attention from the media but it’s a part of the healthcare reform discussion in Washington DC. Proponents of stopping pharmaceutical ads on television note that the marketing campaigns often exaggerate the benefits of the particular drug while downplaying the adverse effects. Other critics point to the ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose ailments and go to their doctors asking to receive certain drugs for previously undiagnosed ailments such as restless leg syndrome, arthritis, and sexual dysfunction.
Pharmaceutical companies spent $4.8 billion last year on direct to consumer advertisements. The companies receive tax deductions for such marketing efforts meaning the consumer is partially paying the bill for these large pharmaceutical companies.
The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct to consumer marketing campaigns. We’ve already seen the adverse consequences of some of these efforts. In 2004, Merck removed Vioxx from the market after revelation of safety concerns. However, this happened after Merck had already garnered handsome profits from its aggressive and extensive direct to consumer marketing efforts. In 2008, Pfizer discontinued television commercials for its cholesterol drug after it was discovered that the ad misrepresented the credentials of the doctor pitching the drug. Also last year, Bayer’s popular birth control drug came under FDA scrutiny for downplaying the drug’s side effects. Yasmin and Yaz are both the subject of lawsuits.
In spite of the lawsuits, pharmaceutical companies remain undeterred in their efforts to market their drugs. They stand to make more profits from misleading marketing campaigns than they’ll lose from lawsuits after a drug is found to cause serious injury.
It’s time for direct to consumer drug ads become a central part of the healthcare reform agenda. Consumers will be safer and the doctors who prescribe the drugs will have better, more independent information based on science and not on marketing.