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Congress should impose 3-year wait on drug ads

May 8, 2008

Congress Should Impose a 3-Year Moratorium on Ads for New Drugs
Ads Should Include 1-800 Number and Website to Report Adverse Effects

Washington, DC–Congress should require drug companies to wait three years after approval to advertise new prescription drugs to consumers, says Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
In a letter sent to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the group also calls on Congress to provide adequate funding for FDA review and enforcement of false or misleading ads, and to require that all drug ads on TV list a toll free 1-800 number and website so consumers can report serious adverse events to the Food and Drug Administration.
The Subcommittee is holding a hearing today on drug advertising.
Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising has soared since 1997 when the FDA relaxed rules on drugs ads to the public. Spending on such ads by drug companies topped $10 billion in 2006 and 2007 alone.
“Prescription drug ads are part of the problem in healthcare, not part of the solution. They promote new brand-name drugs for which there are often less expensive, and sometimes safer, alternatives,” said Steven Findlay, a healthcare analyst at Consumers Union and managing editor of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project providing consumers with unbiased, science-based information on drugs.
“The revenue from drug ads is now substantial for many media companies, and they will join the drug companies in fighting any new restrictions on drug ads. But the plain fact is that some recent high-profile ads have promoted drugs which have turned out to be of questionable effectiveness or safety relative to other drugs. That should make drug and media companies pause in their tracks, but unfortunately, we can’t count on that happening. We need the government to act.”
A Consumers Union poll in February, 2008 found that among consumers who have ever taken a prescription drug, one in six (16 percent) had experienced a serious drug side effect at some time in their life. Only 35 percent were aware that serious side effects can be reported to the FDA. Eight in 10 (81 percent) said they had seen or heard an advertisement for prescription drugs within the past 30 days. Among them, virtually all – 98 percent – had viewed an ad on television. When asked if they think prescription drug advertising should include information to report an adverse drug reaction to the FDA, 87 percent said TV ads should contain this information.
In a separate analysis, Consumers Union in December 2007 showed an ad for Lipitor featured artificial heart pioneer Dr. Robert Jarvik, a non-practicing physician, to 978 people who had been advised by their doctor to lower their cholesterol. Sixty-five percent said the ad conveyed that leading doctors prefer Lipitor and almost half said Jarvik’s endorsement made them more confident about Lipitor. Forty-one percent said the ad conveyed that Lipitor is better than generics, and one-third of those taking a brand-name statin other than Lipitor said they were likely to speak to their physician about switching.
“Drugs aren’t like cereals, detergents or canned soups, where your favorite brands is indeed often better than a cheaper generic. Many brand-name drugs are no better than an alternative generic which will cost less and do just as good a job. With healthcare costs soaring and government and commercial insurers trying hard to promote generic use, drug ads do a disservice to the consumer and our healthcare system,” added Findlay.
For a copy of the letter sent to the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, click here.
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Jennifer Fuson
(202) 462-6262