DRUG ADS: Groups Work to Improve DTC Practices
Several groups concerned about drug ads and consumer safety are calling for improvements in the growing number of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertisements, the Wall Street Journal reports. One such organization is Berkeley, Calif.-based RxHealth Value, whose members include the AARP, Brandeis University's health policy institute and other consumer, labor and managed care groups. Pushing for tighter government regulation of pharmaceutical advertising, the group is calling on the FDA to adopt guidelines that "require full disclosure of risks and benefits" in advertisements. Another group, the Atlanta-based EthicAd Inc., is taking a more neutral approach. Its members, including physicians from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, are working with industry giants, like Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, and consumer groups to create voluntary guidelines on drug advertising. In January, EthicAd and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will host a national meeting to "define 'positive' standards for drug advertising that 'enhance public health.'" The group promotes educational marketing strategies to doctors and health professionals.
According to an AARP survey released last month, about one-third of more than 1,300 consumers failed to notice the small print in ads that describes the dangers and side effects of prescription drugs. Two-thirds of that group also did "not always notice or take away key information in the advertising." Those who did notice key information tended to be younger. Fifty percent of respondents said ads "gave them enough information" about risks and side effects, but 45% said ads did not provide "adequate information." The increased focus on drug ads began in 1997 when the FDA eased restrictions on pharmaceutical marketing. Since then, the amount of money spent on advertising in print and on television has almost doubled, jumping from $1 billion in 1997 to $1.8 billion in 1999 (Kranhold, 6/22).