New Salvo in Old Battle Against Drug Ads

The American Medical Association this week launched a campaign to prohibit advertising aimed at getting patients to ask their doctors for specific prescription drugs and implantable medical devices, claiming direct consumer marketing contributes to rising prices.

Although the California Medical Association has not yet weighed in on this week’s call for a ban, CMA in 1996 approved a resolution stating, “CMA supports the AMA policy that the pharmaceutical industry be enjoined from advertising prescription drugs to the public at large.”

At AMA’s annual policy meeting on Tuesday, delegates voted to actively pursue a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising.

Patrice Harris, incoming chair of the AMA Board of Directors, in a statement said the vote “reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices.” She added, “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

The pharmaceutical industry disagrees with AMA. Consumer advertisements deliver “scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options,” Tina Stow of the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told the Associated Press.

The ads also encourage patients to visit their doctors’ offices “for important doctor-patient conversations about health that might otherwise not take place,” Stow said.

The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs, according to AMA.

Marketing of drugs in the U.S. has increased 30% over the past two years to $4.5 billion, according to Kantar Media, a market research company. AMA officials say such marketing is a significant part of escalating drug prices.

Most of the money goes to television — about $3.2 billion a year — followed by magazines, newspapers and radio, according to Nielsen ratings. Drugs for erectile dysfunction — Viagra and Cialis — are the most-advertised drugs, followed by arthritis and mental health treatments.

How, exactly, AMA intends to pursue a ban — and how state organizations such as CMA will respond – remains to be seen. AMA plans to convene a physician task force and launch an advocacy campaign to promote prescription drug affordability by demanding choice and competition in the pharmaceutical industry and greater transparency in prescription drug prices and costs. AMA also plans to monitor pharmaceutical company mergers and acquisitions and their impact on drug prices. AMA will also seek patent reform to encourage greater market-based competition.

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