Drug Safety Bill Would Limit Direct To Consumer Advertising

Supporters of a new bill working its way through Congress say that limiting the amount of direct to consumer advertising in the first two years of a drug’s life would help insure that drugs are safe before patients are encouraged to seek prescriptions from their doctors.

From the Wall Street Journal:

A reduction in TV and print advertising, which helped transform medications for heartburn and arthritis into blockbusters, would be a serious financial blow to drug makers. According to one study, every $1 spent on pharmaceuticals advertising often adds more than $2 in sales.

While the Food and Drug Administration already screens a small portion of ads voluntarily submitted by drug companies, consumer advocates favor much tougher regulation, arguing that the studies companies use to test the safety of new drugs are not always large enough to spot dangerous side effects.

“We don’t know, and we won’t know, how truly safe a drug is until it’s been used in millions of people,” said Consumer Reports analyst Bill Vaughan. “The real testing of these drugs takes place after a pill hits the market and that’s why the advertising needs to be regulated.”

For its part, the drug industry says pharmaceutical ads are an important tool for patients, giving them information about diseases and treatment options.

“Banning this information even for just a couple of years is not in the best interest of patients and physicians who every day make important health-care decisions,” said Ken Johnson, Vice President for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Drug makers spent nearly $5 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising last year, according to Nielsen Media Research, and a 2004 study found that American TV viewers watch an average of 30 hours of drug ads per year.

The legislation in question was drafted by Senators Ted Kennedy (D, Mass.) and Michael Enzi (R., Wyo.) in response to public outcry surrounding the recall of the drug Vioxx. —MEGHANN MARCO

Drug-Safety Bill Would Limit Direct-to-Consumer Advertising [Wall Street Journal]