Wall Street Journal Addresses Issues Related to Prescription Drug Advertising
The Wall Street Journal today published three articles on issues related to prescription drug advertising. A brief summary of the articles appears below.
- "Reining in Drug Advertising": The article examines the "backlash" against direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements from large employers that call the ads the "prime culprit" for increased health care costs. Drug companies have launched a "torrent" of direct-to-consumer ads "hawking medicines just like soda" since the FDA lifted a ban on the practice in 1997, and many large companies that provide health insurance for employees "think drug advertising steers consumers away from cheaper alternatives." However, according to the pharmaceutical industry, direct-to-consumer advertising "makes people more aware of their options," educates them about drug side effects and informs them about new treatments. The industry also points out that doctors can ensure that patients "won't get the wrong medicine just because they liked an ad" (Burton, Wall Street Journal, 3/13).
- "Agencies Join in Drug Development": The article examines the increased role of advertising agencies in early prescription drug development. Ad agencies have begun to help drug makers recruit patients and conduct studies in agency-owned laboratories, a "lucrative" practice that can "greatly increase the chance of getting [an] account if the product ultimately comes to market." The practice also can help pharmaceutical companies move drugs to the market earlier. However, opponents of the practice question whether an agency may "tilt test results" toward drug companies "in hopes that it would eventually land the ad campaign" for a new drug. Some opponents also have raised concerns that agencies could "marshal the forces of their lobbying and public relations specialists" to help drug makers to receive FDA approval for their drugs or "gain other advantages" with "powerful" academic institutions or medical associations (O'Connell, Wall Street Journal, 3/13).
- "Drug Makers Offer Coupons for Free Prescriptions": The article examines mail, print and online advertising campaigns sponsored by drug companies that offer patients coupons for free one-week or one-month supplies of prescriptions. Pharmaceutical companies hope that the coupons will prompt patients to convince doctors to "prescribe a new therapy or let them switch from an old drug" to a new and more expensive treatment. According to the Journal, the coupons "put more pressure on doctors because patients get discounts only if the physician prescribes the exact drug listed on the coupon." However, the Journal reports that although coupons can "spur sales," patients still must have a prescription to use the coupons, and as a result, they may not represent the "best way to sell prescription drugs." Doctors add that "it's medically unsound to substitute one drug for another" only in order to receive a discount (Harris, Wall Street Journal, 3/13).