Brain and Body

Are Prescription Drug Ads Ethical? Doctors Seek Federal Ban

November 20, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Carsten Schertzer/Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Carsten Schertzer/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s about time.

The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the entire world that allow pharmaceutical companies to directly market to consumers. However, the American Medical Association (AMA) is taking matters into its own hands, seeking a federal ban on prescription drug advertising.

AMA is the largest physician organization in the country, and during this week’s Interim Meeting, members voted in favor of putting an end to major pharmaceutical ads, hoping to help customers make better health choices and reduce drug costs.

“Today’s vote in support of an advertising 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,” AMA Board Chair Patrice Harris said in a press release. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

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The press release states that market research firm Kantar Media found that money spent on drug advertising has increased by 30 percent in the last two years, from $3.5 billion in 2012 to $4.5 billion last year. Not to mention the billions of dollars spent on marketing prescription drugs to clinicians and physicians — a whopping $24 billion in 2012.

However, doctors are most concerned about the industry’s direct marketing to consumers at home. We’ve all seen those sickeningly happy commercials with old people dancing and somehow effortlessly performing physical activities. These advertisements condition us to believe that these miracle drugs can somehow make our lives picture perfect and free of pain. And for some reason, the uncomfortably long list of potential side effects goes in one ear and out the other — probably because they’re listed too fast for us to keep up with anyway.

Michael Miller, a delegate from the Wisconsin Medical Society, argues that ads aim to push sales of particular drugs instead of letting doctors decide which ones are best to prescribe for their patients. “It drives demand and interferes with medical care. We want to spend our time diagnosing and treating patients, not rebutting marketing claims,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Prescription drug ads are compelling consumers to demand certain drugs, but the drug might not be a good fit given the patient’s condition and medical history. Plus, consumers likely have no idea that generic drugs can work just as well as the expensive ones, but they insist upon the TV-famous drugs since they’re familiar with the big brand names.

In the coming weeks, the AMA will evaluate how to move forward with seeking the ban. Bad news for Big Pharma, but good news for millions of unknowing victims of pharmaceutical brainwash.

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