November 3rd, 2005

Professors Speak Out Against Advertising Directly to Consumers

By Jeanne Lenzer
British Medical Journal

The drug industry’s "onslaught of advertising to promote prescription drugs… does not promote public health" and "increases costs and unnecessary prescriptions," more than 200 US medical school professors said last week. In the United States the industry spends $4bn (£2.3bn; 3.3bn) a year on direct to consumer advertising.

The professors signed a petition organised by Commercial Alert, an Oregon based nonprofit organisation that seeks to "protect communities from commercialism." The petition was sent to the US Food and Drug Administration in response to a call for public comments before an FDA advisory committee’s hearing on direct to consumer advertising held earlier this week.

The professors say in the petition: "Prescription drug advertising pressures health professionals to prescribe particular medications, and often the ones that may be less effective and more expensive and dangerous. This intrudes on the relationship between medical professionals and patients, and disrupts the therapeutic process."

That, say the signatories, wastes valuable time as doctors are forced to "explain to patients why they may have been misled by the drug advertisements they have seen."

The doctors dismiss the idea that direct to consumer advertising is "educational," saying: "It [such advertising] is inherently misleading because it features emotive imagery and omits crucial information about drugs." This, they say, is the result of an "inherent and irredeemable financial conflict-of-interest" of the drug companies, which drives them to "exaggerate the positive and minimize the negative qualities of their own products."

Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, disagreed. "The data show a different story," he said, adding that direct to consumer advertising "is educational at a time when there is significant under-diagnosis and undertreatment of diseases that affect millions of Americans."

Mr Trewhitt said that a study by the US health think tank Rand Health published in the New England Journal of Medicine "found that nearly half of all adults in the United States fail to receive recommended health care." He said, "Medications were under-used in seven conditions, including asthma, congestive heart failure, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, hyperlipidaemia, and hypertension."


  1. Posted by Denise Lankau on November 8th, 2005

    What is Mr. Trewhitt’s definition of “recommended health care”?  Under used medication my be refused medication.  Just because a medication is recommended doesn’t mean a patient is required to take it.  All the advertising should be banned.  It is bad enough that my 6 year old tells me what cereal to buy.  I don’t need her telling me what drugs to take.

  2. Posted by Zeke on November 15th, 2005

    your 6 year old will soon tell you that he needs ritalin or some such for the ADD that they will find in him/her once he advances in school. if not him/her, then the school admin.

    the drug companies stragegy is elegant. they place an ad, directed towards milliions, millions who are concerned about their health. there are many now, middle class baby boomers, with some education, and a strong will to live (at least a strong will to not become ill like their parents). the drug companies are aware of this, direct their ads to them, resulting in their pressuring thier physicians for the drug companies’ products. fantastic!!!! millions of potential users pressuring doctors, who are under pressure anyway from drug salespeople, to prescribe particular drugs. what a wonerful idea. millions of people who are not used to reading fine print, being decieved by drug ads, and taking this propaganda to their doctors, desparate to remain healthy......
    its frightening. frigthening. what can we do? it is difficult for us to judge drugs. the info is too technical and we are easily swayed by lawyered non-promises of these drug ads. we must stop these ads and find doctors we can trust.

  3. Posted by Ryan Arnold on January 10th, 2006

    Who should the advertising be targeted to, if not the consumer.  You forget that you have the power to regard or disregard information.  With respect to “your 6 year old son...” Don’t count on the advertising industry or the media to jump in the place of a parent or a doctor.  Advertising is simply a means to inform and the media is simply a medium to do so.

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