JorgeSantillanOctober29th, 2017PoliticalScienceProf.Biancardi Q: “Should the US governmentcreate stronger restrictions on the marketing of medications on TV andradio?” It seems like whenever you’rewatching TV, an ad for anti-depressants, birth control, allergies, and othermedical conditions never fail to come on. In 2009 the Food and DrugAdministration (FDA) stated that the United States and New Zealand are the onlytwo countries in the world that haven’t banned the advertising of prescriptiondrugs directly to consumers. Every other country has banned advertisingprescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication via television commercials,newspaper ads, radio, etc. In 2013, the National Center for BiologicalInformation reported that in the US alone, although it only makes 5% of theworlds population, accounted for over 42% of the world’s prescription drugspending. There are plenty of pros, as well as cons to advertising prescriptionand OTC medicine to general consumers. The public’s exposure to drug advertisementsis definitely a huge factor in over medication.
Patients often sufferundesirable consequences from medications advertised on TV because they aremisinformed. Ads are too short and are not properly reviewed by a crediblemedical organization prior to being released to the public. For these reasons,I believe the US government should create stronger restrictions on themarketing of medications on TV and radio. First, drug advertisements are beingused more as a sales booster, rather than an educational tool. Drug companiesare bombarding your television more than ever, however the approach toappealing patients is anything but informative. We’ve all seen them: the soft,cheesy music.
Happy, smiling middle-aged couples playing sports almost effortlessly,and then towards the end the narrator very quickly spews a mind numbing list ofside effects in record time. Recently, the Washington Post reported that drugmakers in 2014 spent $4.5 billion marketing prescription drugs, $1 billion morethan the amount spent in 2012. Which is also twice the amount spent back in2000, which was only $2 billion (price adjusted after inflation). Year afteryear, the direct-to-consumer market spending keeps increasing. However, thesecorporations are more focused on making their products well-known, and persuadethe viewer to buy the product by providing ideal, perfect world scenarios,rather than providing adequate medical information on their product.
This is aresult of drug producing companies working with advertising agencies ratherthan the Food and Drug Administration to create these advertisements. Thesecompanies are more interested in producing a large revenue than providing abetter understanding of their product. Also, the FDA does not approve prescriptiondrug advertisements before they are introduced to the general public. Thismeans that the general public might see ads that violate law before the FDA canstop the ad from appearing or seeking general corrections. Therefore, the USgovernment should create stronger regulations that would force drug providersto focus more on how the medication works and who it is is best suited for,rather than appealing to viewers with unrealistic imagery.
Second, drug advertisements need tobe longer. Ads in their current state are not long enough to cover all theprerequisites for the drugs they are promoting. The average TV commercial forprescription medication is 30-120 seconds long. Commercials for over thecounter medication are even shorter, only 15-30 seconds long. Within that timeframe, consumers are misinformed because drug ads leave out or exaggerateinformation, as well as present opinions as factual.
In other cases,advertisements will meaninglessly link lifestyle choices with the drugs. As aresult, consumers are lead to believe that normal bodily functions need to betreated. For example, some ads will state things such as insomnia, and normalaging processes such as wrinkles and lower testosterone levels as medicalconditions that need to be treated by medications. Wendy Macias, an associateprofessor of journalism at the University of Georgia, researched that in anaverage minute long drug advertisement, only 8 seconds are devoted to sideeffects and health risks. Macias argues that when presenting information on thedrug, “the information is often presented in a way that people aren’t likely tocomprehend or even pay attention to.
” Drug ads are loaded with complicatedterminology. The “brief summary” section of printed labels where importantinformation like drug usage, warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, arestated, is often overlooked because the print is so small and so technical.Macias states, “it’s written for doctors, not consumers.” Prescription and overthe counter drug advertisements need a regulation in which they are allowedmore air time on TV and radio.
This would allow drug providers a longer timeframe to present all necessary information in a way consumers can understand. Third, drug ads encourage overmedication. In a survey conducted by the FDA in August of 2015, it was foundthat 81% of doctors agree that DTC prescription drug advertising promotes drugoverutilization. Doctors argue that direct to consumer drug advertisementsemphasize that prescriptions drugs, rather than a proper diet and exercise, arenecessary to improve health. In fact, prescription medication is prescribedabout 25 times more frequently in the United States than in the United Kingdom,which does not allow DTC prescription drug ads. 75% of doctors also agree thatthe drugs displayed on these advertisements only treat symptoms. They are not acure.
Steven Holden, PhD, a psychologyprofessor at Vanderbilt University argues that “half the folks who are being treatedwith antidepressants aren’t benefitting from the active pharmacological effectsof the drugs themselves but from a placebo effect.” Doctors recommendpatients focus more on seeking psychiatric help, instead of wasting their moneyand relying on medication. For these reasons, I believe the US governmentshould create a regulation that reduces the amount of times a prescription drugad is advertised on the media. Lastly, and most importantly,prescription drug ads promote drugs before long-term safety information isknown. Not too long ago, a popular prescription drug advertised from 1999-2004was pulled from airing on TV for causing strokes and heart attacks. The drugwas called Vioxx, a brand name for Rofecoxib. It was advertised, requested bypatients, and prescribed by doctors to treat arthritis pains until it wasrecalled, and listed as the primary suspected cause of death in 4,540mortalities from Jan. 1, 1999 to June 30, 2005.
In a more dramatic case,Accutane was pulled from the market in 2009. The prescription drug had been onthe market for 27 years! It was a popular medication used to treat acne untilit was found that it increased the risk of birth defects, miscarriages, andpremature births when used by pregnant women as well as inflammatory boweldisease and suicidal tendencies. The US government should create a regulationin which prescription drugs are tested long enough to clear any undesirablelong-term effects. One could argue that there aremultiple benefits to advertising prescription drugs. They reduce diseasestigma, increase disease awareness, inform patients, and encourage them to seekhealthcare advice from health professionals. However, I believe drug providershave a different mindset.
Their goals for these ads are not about publichealth. Instead, direct to consumer ads are simply designed to boost sales.They unnecessarily increase health care costs and trigger overprescribing ofexpensive and potentially harmful medications. Therefore, the US government shouldcreate regulations that would redirect drug ads to focus more on druginformation, provide longer airtime, reduce the frequency of these ads, andrequire a long test period. Direct to consumer drug advertising should bereviewed by a credible source like the FDA, as well as the federal tradecommission, prior to being released to the public. With these regulations inplace, I’m certain the pharmaceutical market will become a safer place foreveryone.