Dr. Eric Topol is pushing for greater
restrictions on drug advertising.

Drug Advertisements May Mislead Consumers

May 19, 2008 09:44 AM
by Anne Szustek
Billions of dollars in drug ads directed at consumers annually may make for an informed public, but some doctors and legislators say the ads are deceptive.

30-Second Summary

Ever since the Food and Drug Administration gave pharmaceutical ads the green light in 1997, the U.S. drug industry has spent an average of $5 billion annually to get the word out about their products. And the ad blitz has been more than effective.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard University School of Public Health, 44 percent of patients who ask their health care providers about a medication they have seen advertised end up receiving a prescription for it.

But “millions of people … couldn't possibly judge the subtle pros and cons of a therapy that even specialists continue to debate,” argues a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Concerned over “heavily-advertised drugs found to carry serious risks,” physicians writing in the NEJM have proposed a moratorium on pharmaceutical advertising.

The House Commerce Committee showed concern after inaccuracies emerged in some drug commercials. Vytorin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, came under scrutiny after a January study suggested it was no more effective than lower-priced brands. TV commercials for Lipitor, another cholesterol-lowering drug, were questioned after the discovery that spokesperson Dr. Robert Jarvik was neither a licensed physician nor a rower, as depicted in the ad.

On May 9, Pfizer executive James Sage answered questions about the Jarvik ad at a House Commerce Committee hearing. “I am confident that the statements included in the ads fairly represent the scientific data about Lipitor,” Sage said.

Headline Link: ‘Do Consumers Understand Drug Ads?’

Background: Current regulations on drug ads; Jarvik’s Lipitor ad under fire

Video: ‘Drug Ads Raise Questions for Heart Pioneer’

Reactions: ‘Drug Company Executives Respond to Concerns About Ads at House Panel Hearing’

Opinion & Analysis: Drug ads may increase patients’ awareness of medications; doctors call for ad moratorium

Reference: FDA; findingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Medications

Related Topic: Disappointing drug results


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