NEWS RELEASE
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (202)588-7746
For Immediate Release: May 24th, 2006

39 Health & Seniors Groups Call on Congress to End to DTC Prescription Drug Ads

Thirty-nine medical, health and seniors’ organizations are urging Congress to stop the advertising of prescription drugs to consumers, Commercial Alert and the National Women’s Health Network announced today.

“Prescription drug ads are dishonest and dangerous,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert. “They hype the benefits and cloak the risks of prescription drugs.”

As Robert A. Schoellhorn, former chairman of Abbott Laboratories warned more than two decades ago, “We believe direct advertising to the consumer introduces a very real possibility of causing harm to patients who may respond to advertisements by pressuring physicians to prescribe medications that may not be required.”

“We agree.  We would add that the possibility of creating another Vioxx catastrophe has only grown since then,” Ruskin said.

Amy Allina, program director of the National Women’s Health Network, points out that history has proved regulation of direct-to-consumer ads to be inadequate to protect consumers.  “The ad campaigns promoting hormone therapy to women at menopause were a triumph of marketing over science.  Drug companies ducked and weaved around the regulations for truth in advertising, touting unproven benefits for their menopause drugs which exposed millions of women to breast cancer and heart disease risks with little or no benefit to many.”

The groups are now seeking Members of Congress to introduce legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to stop direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug ads.

The following organizations have endorsed the Public Health Protection Act, which would end DTC prescription drug advertising, and are asking Congress to enact it: Action Alliance of Senior Citizens of Greater Philadelphia, Action Coalition for Media Education, Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, Alliance for Human Research Protection, American Medical Student Association, Breast Cancer Action, California Chapter of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Center for a New American Dream, Center for Justice & Democracy, Commercial Alert, Congress of California Seniors, Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans, Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Consumer Project on Technology, DES Action USA, Essential Action, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, Florida CHAIN, Government Accountability Project, Gray Panthers, Health Care For All, Healthcare-NOW, Health Education AIDS Liaison-NYC (HEAL), Just Health Care, Justice in Michigan, Maine Council of Senior Citizens-Alliance for Retired Americans (MCSC-ARA), Maryland NOW, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Minnesota COACT, National Women’s Health Network, Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans, New View Campaign for Women’s Sexual Problems (FSD-Alert.org), Obligation Inc., Pennsylvanians United for Reform in Health Care (PURe-HC), Pennsylvanians United for Single Payer Healthcare (PUSH), People Against Cancer, Physicians for a National Health Program, Prescription Access Litigation Project and the Women’s Health Institute.

Following is an outline of the Public Health Protection Act.

Public Health Protection Act

Provision 1:

Direct-to-consumer advertisements of prescription drugs are prohibited, including “reminder advertisements,” and “help-seeking advertisements” that direct people to websites that are intended to promote the sale of particular prescription drugs.

An exception is created for print advertising that presents only the names and prices of prescription drugs, or informs consumers that certain prescription drugs are available at a certain location.  Ads may not use emotive imagery that is not primarily educational.

Provision 2:

If provision 1 is held unconstitutional, the following provisions will immediately become effective:

a.  Direct-to-consumer advertisements for a prescription drug shall include additional warnings appropriate to the drug to inform consumers that (1) this drug was approved based on testing that included fewer than [typically 3000] people, and it may be dangerous to your health in ways that this limited research has not yet revealed; and, (2) the Food and Drug Administration does not certify that this drug is more effective, safer or cheaper than other drugs in its class.

b.  Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs shall not be tax deductible.

c.  Pharmaceutical companies shall be subject to a 3% windfall profits tax, which shall be dedicated to a fund, controlled by the National Institutes of Health, for conducting studies on comparative benefits of drugs (also compared to non-pharmaceutical interventions) and a mechanism for publicly disseminating those results, including academic detailing and advertising.

If any portion of provision 2 is held to be unconstitutional, the other provisions shall not be affected.

<-----bill outline ends here----->

Last October, Commercial Alert released a statement, endorsed by 211 professors from U.S. medical schools, that “direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs should be prohibited.” The statement’s endorsers include prominent medical school professors from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, Duke, University of California, San Francisco and other top medical schools, along with two former editors-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Commercial Alert is encouraging people to visit the StopDrugAds website (www.StopDrugAds.org) to send a message to their Members of Congress in support of the Public Health Protection Act.

Commercial Alert is a nonprofit organization that opposes commercialism and promotes public health.  Our mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy. For more information, visit Commercial Alert’s website at http://www.commercialalert.org.

The National Women’s Health Network improves the health of all women by influencing policy and supporting informed consumer decision-making. The Network aspires to a health care system that is guided by social justice and reflects the needs of diverse women.  For more information, visit the National Women’s Health Network’s website at http://www.nwhn.org/

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