Sept. 29, 2005

Direct-to-Consumer Drug Ads Not Beneficial; Federal Government Should Do More to Educate Patients, Public Citizen Tells Senators

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The adverse effects of direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising outweigh the still-undemonstrated, theoretical benefits of the ads, and the federal government should do more to stop misleading ads from reaching consumers, Public Citizen told senators today.

In testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, detailed how drug ads – on television, in print and on the Web – encourage doctors to prescribe pricey drugs to many patients who do not need the medication.

“Direct-to-consumer advertising is nothing less than an end-run around the doctor-patient relationship,” Lurie said. “There is little relationship between our true public health needs and the subjects of direct-to-consumer advertising.”

DTC advertising has mushroomed from a $791 million industry in 1996 to $4.1 billion in 2004. Yet the Food and Drug Administration still has not published any regulations regarding DTC ads. The ads drive up the cost of health care because patients are induced to ask their doctors for newer, more expensive medications instead of equally effective, older generics. According to one report, the top 25 DTC-advertised drugs accounted for 41 percent of the growth in retail drug spending in 1999. Another report showed that the growth in DTC advertisements for the 25 largest therapeutic classes accounted for 12 percent of drug sales growth from 1999 to 2000 and resulted in an additional $2.6 billion in pharmaceutical expenditures in 2000.

One of the more astounding DTC advertisements was produced by Galderma Laboratories, the makers of the prescription acne medication Differin. Broadcast both on the Internet and on MTV, the advertisements promise free music downloads to teens who coax their parents into taking them to the doctor and securing a Differin prescription. Teens who persuade their parents to secure a prescription get seven free downloads; a refill gets them 10 free downloads.

The drug industry has demonstrated a gross inability to police itself, and the federal government is too slow to pull misleading ads off the air, Lurie said. The federal government should better educate patients, review television drug ads before they air and be given the ability to levy civil monetary penalties against drug companies that violate the rules. To read Lurie’s testimony, click here