Direct to Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising
While you are watching television, browsing through the Internet or simply listening to the radio on your way to work, chances are you will be bombarded by drug advertisements. The level of pharmaceutical advertising in our country is so extreme that the average American television viewer will watch 16 hours of these ads in a given year.
Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA) is an attempt made by pharmaceutical companies to promote prescription products directly to patients. As of today, the United States is only one of two countries in the world–along with New Zealand–that allow DTCPA featuring product claims. Now, with only two countries allowing these types of drug ads, you may be thinking that there are a lot more opponents than supporters. However, the debate is surprisingly balanced between pros and cons, which we will go into more detail in a little bit.
America the Unique
“Product claim ads” are what we are used to in America. These ads not only tell the audience the name of their drug, but the ad also indicates what the drug can be used for. In nearly every other country in the world, product claim ads are illegal.
In most of the world, pharmaceutical commercials can only mention the drug’s name or a medical condition, but not both. For instance, in England there could be a commercial for Lipitor, but the ad couldn’t tell you that Lipitor is a cholesterol medicine. Or an ad could tell you to speak to your doctor about high cholesterol, but the ad couldn’t tell you to take Lipitor.
Arguments in Support of DTCPA
- DTCPA supporters claim that it educates patients as it allows them access to a wide range of information sources about drugs and medical conditions.
- DTCPA advocates say that the ads motivate patients to approach health care providers about medical advice.
- DTCPA are claimed to educate patients and help them develop more thoughtful questions when consulting physicians. This also limits the risk of under-diagnosis as more patients are knowledgeable about what to expect about certain conditions.
- DTCPA studies show an increase in patient obedience to treatment instructions and drug use. This is very important, as the average patient does not strictly follow a doctor’s orders.
- DTCPA raises awareness of diseases that have certain stigmas associated with them, making it less embarrassing for patients to discuss their concerns with physicians.
Arguments Against DTCPA
- DTCPA opponents state that the ads misinform patients, mainly through the omission of necessary information.
- DTCPA are said to overemphasize the benefits of drugs advertised. The FDA (during 1997 to 2006) agreed that the exaggeration of a drug’s effectiveness has been a common issue (84% of the regulatory letters concerning DTCPA related to this problem).
- DTCPA promote new drugs even before all the health risks are fully known. This is especially true for “first-in class” drugs, which have an even shorter safety profile than most other drugs.
- DTCPA opponents blame pharmaceutical ads for creating an overmedicated society; opponents claim drug ads increase the expectations of drug benefits and, ultimately, cause distress in patients.
- DTCPA leads to faulty prescriptions when health care providers are not fully informed of the drugs asked for by patients.
- DTCPA is not regulated strictly enough; critics complain that FDA rules don’t prevent violations because pharmaceutical companies are held responsible only after a violation has occurred.
There is a pretty obvious division between support and opposition of DTCPA. But, one thing both of these groups can agree on is that action should be undertaken to increase the benefits and decrease the risks of consumer drug advertisements. Suggestions include the delay of advertising for new products, pre-clearance requirement by the FDA, and improve patient understanding of health risks involved.
It is hoped that these remedies will allow for more control of DTCPA for the improvement of public health.
What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments below.
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