Direct to Consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising is a terrible practice. The US and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow DTC drug ads. The average consumer, in my opinion, does not have the training or medical knowledge to understand the risks associated with various medications. Doctors go through 8 years of school and long residency positions to safely treat patients.
DTC ads are overseen by the FDA. The drug must be FDA approved to treat the condition and it must discuss the risks along with the benefits. TV ads only need to include “most important” risks if they provide information on how to obtain more information. Interestingly, a study recently released, found that the perception of risk becomes diluted with a lengthy side effect list. In the experiment, the group who heard only major side effects rated the drug’s risk higher than those who heard the full list. I think that our high exposure to DTC advertisements consumers are used to hearing numerous side-effects. Since many side-effects are expected, burying major symptoms with long lists of minor ones makes them have less impact. This study proves to me that drug information is simply too complicated to properly convey in the span of a short advertisement.
Consumers are more likely to ask for brand-name drugs after seeing an advertisement on TV. The pharmaceutical industry knows this and today spends 5.2 billion dollars on DTC ads, a 60% increase from 4 years ago. These advertisements drive up the price of prescriptions and make it costlier for the consumer. Dr. Harris, the American Medical Association’ (AMA) Immediate Past Chair has said: “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.” Supporters of DTC drug advertisements say that the commercials make people aware of diseases and the treatment options available. But I do not think these commercials are meant to inform, they are meant to sell a product. The AMA also listed a study found that when medications were marketed directly to the consumer they saw an increase in the price of 34.2%.
To make things worse the pharmaceutical industry is pushing for more freedom in their advertisement practices so they can market drugs for off-label uses. This would mean these drugs would not need to be reviewed by the FDA and would forgo a lot of testing. According to the LA Times, a study found that patients using off-label drugs that lacked proper testing, were 54% more likely to have bad side effects. This included allergic reaction, respiratory complications and/or gastrointestinal complications.
I believe that DTC pharmaceutical ads are inappropriate for the everyday consumer, but I doubt they will be going away anytime soon. One possible option would be having the advertisements focus more on informing consumers about the disease than selling the product. Instead of marketing the drug, a company could sponsor PSA’s regarding the ailment. Another option that the AMA has put forward is to help control drug prices. The policy would require the cost of the medication to be listed in the advertisement. This would create transparency in our drug prices and help control the high costs of medications, which often spike for no reason.