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Direct To Customer Ads May Not Be Worth The Money

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 11:03 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Chantix, Boniva, Direct-To-Customer Ads, Dangerous Drugs, Drug Products

Sally field for Boniva, direct to customer advertising that may not be worth the money



IMAGE SOURCE: Sally Field for Boniva, Roche bone health web site 


You see them every time you turn on television- ads for an allergy medication that keeps you “Claritin clear”; an ad for  “Viva Viagra”; ads about Prilosec OTC; or Boniva that use celebrities.

Five billion a year is spent on direct-to-customer (DTC) ads for prescription drugs on TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers a venue that expanded rapidly since 1997 when the FDA eased regulations on the advertising of drugs.

Now a new study contents that drug companies that advertise directly to consumers may not be getting their money’s worth.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal and looked at the only two countries that allow direct advertising, the U.S. and New Zealand.

As it turns out, the direct-to-customer marketing is based on scant data, says principal investigator Stephen Soumerai of Harvard Medical School.

To conduct the study, researchers compared English-speaking areas of Canada, who watch American media, with residents of Quebec who primarily watch French-language media. Enbrel ,Nasonex and Zelnorm were the drugs studied.  Except for a short-term pike in sales for Zelnorm of 40 percent in English-speaking Canada after an ad campaign got underway, the prescription rates remained basically identical in the two groups.

Why aren’t drug ads effective?  For one, pharmaceuticals aren’t like wrinkle cream.  

"A person needs to see an ad, get motivated by the ad, contact their doctor for an appointment, show up at the appointment, communicate both the condition and the drug to the doctor, convince the doctor that this drug is preferable to other alternatives, then actually go out and fill the prescription. This is a chain of events that can break at any point," Soumerai said

While DTC ads may generate discussion with you doctor about diabetes, high blood pressure or undiagnosed symptoms, critics says DTC ads are leading to the overuse of prescription drugs and the most costly of treatments, instead of older or non-prescription treatments.

Michael S. Wilkes, M.D., vice dean of the medical school at the University of California, Davis, says that two reasons he doesn't like DTC advertising are that patients may withhold information from their doctors or try to treat themselves.

Aiming prescription drug ads at consumers can affect the "dynamics of the patient-provider relationship," and ultimately, the patient's quality of care, Wilkes tells the FDA.

Ads about a drug must include the risks and benefits, though drug companies do not have to seek prior approval from the FDA before an ad runs. The latest trend in advertising is something called a “help seeking” ad that discusses only the condition, then directs you to ask your doctor about treatment.

A “reminder” ad calls attention to a drug’s name but says nothing about the condition it is used to treat or its safety. Neither type of advertising has to include any risk information.  

In April, the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that 91 percent of adults surveyed had seen or heard advertisements for prescription drugs, but just one-third spoke to a doctor about a drug they saw advertised, and 54 percent of them got a prescription for a different drug. #

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