Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ban the Ads: Why Doctors are Calling to Make Drug Advertisements a Thing of the Past

Image Source:  monitoringmedicines.org
These days you cannot turn on your television or browse through a magazine without seeing at least one advertisement for prescription medication.  You know the ones, a beautiful woman smiling as she hits the sheets because thanks to “Medication A” she is now able to get a good night’s sleep, an attractive middle-aged man catching a football because “Medication B” has him feeling younger than ever, or a little kid happily holding a pencil because “Medication C” allows him to finally be able to concentrate in school.

We have been seeing these ads for so long, hearing them quietly spiel what seems to be a never-ending list of side effects then subsequently prompt us to talk to our doctor today, that we have become accustomed to them.  However, in many countries this is NOT the norm.   The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription medications.  Here in the U.S, however, this trend may soon be coming to an end.

The American Medical Association (AMA), a professional organization of Doctors, has proposed a ban to DTC advertising of prescription drugs.  In a statement released on November 17th 2015, AMA’s Board Chair-elect Dr. Patrice A. Harris stated that the ban “…reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices”.  DTC advertising, he continued, also “… inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”
The AMA argues that prescription drug advertisements often lead patients to choose brand name medication over generic alternatives which are more economically efficient and just as clinically effective.  In addition, they cite data released by health research company Altarum Institute to demonstrate the high cost of medications.  In 2015, for example, prices for generic and brand name prescription drugs increased by 4.7 percent. 
Although, it is no secret that the cost of medications has been raising over the years, the problems with DTC may not be just about cost.  Many physicians identify patient misinformation as a problem as well.  One study found that 57 percent, or roughly 6 out of ten prescription drug advertisements contain misleading information.  Many ads have been found to exaggerate positive outcomes or leave out important information.
As you may imagine, pharmaceutical companies are NOT happy about the proposal. Considering that pharmaceutical ads are a major source of their revenue, neither are print magazines nor television companies.  Pharmaceutical companies have spent a reported $4.5 billion in prescription drug advertisement in 2014, up 18 percent from the previous year.  In a statement released on November 19th, 2015, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which is also not pleased with the motion, stated that the ban is not only a bad idea, but also one that “…raises very serious First Amendment concerns”. 

For the time being, however, all of those opposed can rest easy.  The AMA has no actual power to ban DTC ads; only congress can make that decision.  So far, no such determination by congress has been made.
Originally published in LatinTrends Magazine, Mar 2016

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