June 30th, 2005

Senate Leader Seeks Moratorium on Ads for New Prescription Drugs

By Kathy Kiely
USA Today

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, is calling on the pharmaceutical industry to curtail the multibillion-dollar advertising campaigns used to peddle prescription drugs directly to consumers. His move puts one of the most powerful lobbies in town on notice that the Senate’s top Republican expects curbs on drug ads in print and television.

In a speech prepared for delivery today, the Tennessee senator blames drug ads for contributing to rising health care costs. He’s seeking a two-year moratorium on advertising for new drugs and a government audit to determine how drug ads have affected the way Americans are treated for illness.

“Drug advertisements are fuel to America’s skyrocketing prescription-drug costs,” Frist says in remarks prepared for delivery in the Senate. “They create an artificial demand. And they drive up our nation’s overall health care costs.”

The ads have increased since 1997, when the government eased rules to make television ads possible. Pharmaceutical companies spent $4.1 billion advertising drugs last year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The Food and Drug Administration is supposed to review promotional material but has only 40 staffers to check more than 30,000 pieces of material a year. Frist is calling for more resources for advertising reviews.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, has promised to come up with an advertising code of conduct. Former representative Billy Tauzin, R-La., head of the industry group, said drug advertising “is a free-speech issue” but acknowledged that these ads are due for some change.

Frist believes the code should include a moratorium on ads for drugs that have been on the market less than two years. The Government Accountability Office study that Frist is requesting could be used as the basis for legislation to impose federal restrictions if Frist is not satisfied with the industry’s voluntary measures.

Frist, a heart and lung transplant surgeon before he entered politics, is reacting in part because of concerns from fellow physicians, said Frist spokesman Nick Smith. Frist plans to retire from the Senate at the end of 2006. He has not ruled out a 2008 White House bid.


  1. Posted by marnie on July 1st, 2005

    It’ll be interesting to see if the Democrats support Frist’s moratorium.

  2. Posted by kirk on July 6th, 2005

    What a surprise to see this creep renounce the dark side, if only for a while.  BTW, “free speech” protection for advertising is an absurdity dating from an old Supreme Court decision holding that a corporation is a person.  As absurd as allowing teevee ads for prescription drugs in the first place.

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