DRUG INDUSTRY: Companies Aim Ad Barrage at Consumers
Drug manufacturers spent almost $1.9 million in direct-to-consumer advertising last year, the Washington Post reports. Sales figures indicate that the spending pays off: Increased drug advertising has spurred consumers to request designer treatments, and about 75%-80% of the time physicians will prescribe the medication if patients ask for it. The result: Americans spent more than $100 billion on prescription medicines last year, and the cost of drugs rose 11.6% over the same period. Drugmakers argue that the ads inform patients about new medicines and often prompt them to seek treatment. But critics question the effect on patients' health and the U.S. health care system. They contend that the ads "play down" harmful side effects, contribute to rising prescription drug costs and encourage Americans to believe that a "pill can fix whatever ails you." Barbara Mintzes, a public health researcher at the University of British Columbia, said that advertising "doesn't give (consumers) an overview of what's available and whether it's the most appropriate treatment or the best value for money."
Charting the Ad Boom
In the last decade, consumer advertising for prescription medicines blossomed 20-fold, skyrocketing after the FDA relaxed its rules in August 1997. Pharmaceutical companies have promoted 50 drugs in television or radio ads since 1997, although some ads have "run afoul" of the agency for lack of balance, incomplete information or misleading claims. During the three-year time frame, the FDA has sent 23 regulatory letters to drugmakers for violations of agency rules. "Sometimes (companies) will argue with us, but generally they pull the ads," Nancy Ostrove, a top FDA official, said. But Jim Daley, a general manager at Glaxo Wellcome, claims that the FDA's position is "still evolving" and is often "difficult for companies to predict." Daley said, "It is far from black and white, in terms of what claims and what fair balance the agency feels comfortable with" (Okie, 5/22).