Friday, February 6, 2009

Ban on direct to consumer advertising?

Almost two months ago, I reported that Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif), the new chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, stated he would like to pursue the idea of giving regulators the power to ban advertisements to consumers when a new medicine first reaches the market and risks are not fully known. (Full story here.) Today, Time/ has published a story, available here, arguing that "with a new President who has vowed to fight Big Pharma to lower drug costs and a Democratic Congress with several anti-DTC advocates, drug and media companies are justifiably jittery" about a possible ban on direct to consumer advertising. As the story points out, direct-to-consumer "advertising by pharmaceutical companies has always been somewhat controversial. The U.S. is one of only two countries that permit it (New Zealand is the other). Critics claim that these advertisements encourage consumers to seek out overly expensive brand-name drugs from doctors. Their symptoms might not require such medications, and when they do, cheaper generic drugs may be available. Such marketing probably drives up overall health-care costs. More important, new drugs that are aggressively marketed can pose a safety risk. Merck's heavy promotion of pain reliever Vioxx . . . is a prime example of advertising gone awry. The drug was later taken off the market after it was found to increase risk for heart attacks."

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