Study Finds Consumer Ads Lack Important Details on Prescription Drugs
A "vast majority" of consumer advertisements for pharmaceuticals neglect to include important information, such as a drug's success rate, risk and the condition it treats, according to a new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Family Practice. The Sacramento Bee reports that the study, conducted by researchers at the University of California's Los Angeles and Davis campuses, found that most direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements studied did not provide information pertaining to how a drug works, how long it must be taken, alternative treatments or lifestyle adjustments that could reduce the need for medication. Dr. Richard Kravitz, director of the UC Davis Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care and one of the study's authors, said, "These ads are designed to encourage patients to request the advertised drugs from physicians." Kravitz added that patient requests for certain drugs could not only result in physicians prescribing drugs "they don't deem necessary," but could also cause arguments between physicians and patients who disagree over a physician's refusal to prescribe medication. Managed care groups also oppose consumer advertising, "blam[ing]" it for helping to drive up drug costs and "creating demand for brand-name drugs that didn't exist before." The pharmaceutical industry, however, defends the advertisements, stating that they "improve patient compliance with prescribed therapies" and "increase dialogue" between patients and doctors. "For diseases like depression or diabetes, or high blood pressure, where most people don't even know they are at risk, the ads prompt them to see their doctor and get help," Meredith Art of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that spending on direct-to-consumer advertising is highest for antihistamines, antidepressants, antiulcerants and cholesterol reducers. In addition, the Kaiser study found that many of the "highly advertised products," such as Prozac, Claritin and Prilosec, are also "among the most heavily prescribed drugs." Spending on consumer advertisements reached $1.3 billion in 1998. Kravitz and the other authors of the new study are calling on the federal government to develop stricter regulations for direct-to-consumer advertisements (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 12/2). On a lighter note, Sunday's Washington Post featured a satirical article by Silver Spring, Md.-based writer Mary Gray finding humor in the advertising blitz (Gray, Washington Post, 12/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.