Doctors group launches war on drug ads
If there's an ailment, there's an ad for a prescription
drug aimed at fighting it – from toe fungus
Prescription drug advertising has swelled to a
$4.8 billion industry since the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration relaxed its restrictions on the
ads in 1997, allowing for descriptions of the drugs'
purpose. Many doctors say the ads are coming so
fast that they don't have time to learn about the
benefits and risks of a new drug before patients
start requesting prescriptions.
Last month, the American Medical Association asked
the FDA to impose a waiting period before new drugs
and devices can be marketed to consumers.
"Doctors just want to make sure they have
a chance to get up to speed on new drugs before
the patients are being urged to seek these medications
because of heavy advertising," said Dr. Ron
Davis, the association's president-elect.
The ads can disrupt the patient-doctor relationship
and contribute to risinghealth-care costs when
patients insist on receiving new, more expensive
drugs, said Davis, who works in the Henry Ford
Health System in Detroit.
The drug industry's lobby, Pharmaceutical Research
and Manufacturers of America, is opposed to a mandatory
waiting period for drug ads. The lobby has voluntary
guidelines encouraging drug companies to educate
doctors and submit ads to the FDA for approval.
In response to the medical association's ruling,
the lobby released a statement that reads, in part:
"Direct-to-consumer advertising provides
doctors and patients with accurate, educational
information about disease and treatment options."
Davis acknowledged that drug advertising can raise
awareness and encourage communication between doctors
and patients, but added that tighter regulations
"We hope that the FDA will step forward and
show leadership in this area," Davis said. "If
that doesn't happen then legislation may be needed
to make it a requirement."
Dr. Melvyn Sterling, an internist who practices
in Orange, attended the medical association meetings
that led to the policy changes. He said people
should consider the source when reading or watching
"The reason those ads are there is to sell
the drug, not to educate the public," Sterling
And the ads aren't just coming in magazines and
A local pharmaceutical company, Valeant, flies
a yellow banner off its Costa Mesa building: "New
Zelapar orally disintegrating tablets. Now FDA
approved!" The banner doesn't mention what
the drug is used for (Parkinson's disease).
Officials for Valeant did not respond to requests
for comment for this story. Irvine pharmaceutical
company Allergan, which markets wrinkle smoothers
and dry eye treatments in magazines, also did not
Drug safety is another reason doctors are hoping
for an advertising moratorium. Clinical drug trials
sometimes are conducted with too few subjects for
serious side effects to show up