Tremendous growth has occurred in direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising since 1998. According to Pharma Marketing News (Pharmacy and Therapeutics, October 2011) spending in dollars rose from $1.2 billion in 1998 to $2.5 billion in 2000 and 4.5 billion in 2009, a 450% increase.
As I pointed out three years ago, prescription drug marketing directly to the consumer is routinely permitted under U.S. law. Notable, is the profoundly different regulatory environment in the European Union (EU), Australia, and Canada where pharmaceutical manufacturers are forbidden to advertise prescription drugs to the public. Incredibly, the U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world where it is legal for drug companies to advertise to the public.
Such “direct to consumer” or DTC advertising is meant, obviously, to create increased patient demand for specific drugs from their doctors. In this scenario, patients really become consumers, replacing the doctor as prescriber, if the physician is foolish enough to surrender his authority. Consumer Reports, in a 2006 survey found that 78 percent of doctors said that patients asked them at one time or another to prescribe drugs they had seen advertised on television.
While Congress recently gave the FDA more authority to regulate ads, it rejected a measure that would have allowed to agency to place a moratorium on ads for new drugs that raise safety concerns. The sad fact remains that Congress seems in no mood to address the main problem, the legality of advertising drugs to the public.
Don’t expect the ad barrage, TV or otherwise, to subside any time soon. Evening and much of daytime TV is contaminated with advertising for various pharmaceutical products, including new antidepressants, new treatments for arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, sexual malperformance-who can define “erectile dysfunction”?-a host of new anticoagulants-I could go on indefinitely. What I like best are the disclaimers: Here’s an example from Chantix:
Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using CHANTIX to help them quit smoking. Some people had these symptoms when they began taking CHANTIX, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment or after stopping CHANTIX. If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking CHANTIX and call your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems before taking CHANTIX, as these symptoms may worsen while taking CHANTIX.
Some people can have serious skin reactions while taking CHANTIX, some of which can become life-threatening. These can include rash, swelling, redness, and peeling of the skin. Some people can have allergic reactions to CHANTIX, some of which can be life-threatening and include: swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing. If you have these symptoms or have a rash with peeling skin or blisters in your mouth, stop taking CHANTIX and get medical attention right away.
The real question is, why would anyone in his right mind take Chantix to stop smoking? Or for that matter, a few hundred other drugs festooned with all those scary disclaimers.