Prescription Drug Ads: Do They Do More Harm Than Good?

JB Editor
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    Many of your remember the trouble with Vioxx -- it was one of the most heavily advertised drugs ever; people asked for it by name; doctors wrote millions of prescriptions and then it was pulled from the market because of the dangers it caused for hearts.


    "Prescription-drug ads prompt nearly one-third of Americans to ask their doctors about an advertised medicine, and 82% of those who ask say their physicians recommended a prescription."


    This comes from Julie Appleby, a reporter with USA TODAY in a news article about a survey done by the newspaper, the Kaiser Family Foundation (a non-profit health organization) and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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    Read the article in USA Today here.


    Find the Kaiser Family Foundation survey here.

    The story also says, "Among people who requested a drug, 44% said physicians gave the one they asked about, while slightly more than half said doctors prescribed a different drug. Sometimes, doctors did both. When duplicate answers were removed, the poll found 82% of patients got some type of prescription."


    Advertisements shown directly to people like you also affect prescription drug prices. According to USA TODAY: "Billy Tauzin, president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's lobbying group, says the ads educate patients about diseases such as depression and diabetes and encourage them to see a doctor.


    Doctors and health care analysts say those visits also prompt patients to seek the latest and often most expensive drug, helping to drive up spending on health care and raising questions about whether patients need those particular new medications."


    You may remember that the FDA didn't allow direct-to-consumer drug marketing before 1997. Since then, prescription-drug advertising have become a billion dollar business. In 2006, the pharmaceutical industry reportedly spent $4.8 billion on ads to people like you. The industry spent $7.2 billion more marketing products to doctors.


    Again, from USA TODAY:

    "Consumer advertising has "contributed to overall increases in spending on both the advertised drug itself and on other drugs that treat the same conditions," says a Government Accountability Office report from 2006. It cites another study of 64 drugs that found for every $1 spent on advertising, sales increased by a median of $2.20."


    This raises some questions for anyone currently taking prescription drugs or who may be seeking treatment for their condition:

    • Do you, as a patient, feel that you should not be exposed to drug advertising because it will do you more harm than good?
    • Should you, the patient, decide what information you should receive or should the government regulate drug ads?
    • Are patients knowledgeable enough to understand drug ads?
    • Do you ask your doctor for drugs by name because you saw them on TV, in a magazine or on a Web site?
    • Is your doctor willing to prescribe whatever you ask for?

    Maybe none of this is a problem to you, or maybe some of you are concerned that drug advertising should end right away.


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Published On: March 04, 2008