Despite some benefit, drug ads can be harmful to your health

November 12, 2009

While the debate over prescription drug advertising persists, a new study released online in the American Journal of Public Health offers guidelines for improving drug ads in order to minimize potential harm and maximize benefits. The study reveals that while there are some benefits from prescription drug direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), there are significant risks that are magnified by the prominence of DTCA.

"American viewers see as many as 16 hours of prescription drug advertisements each year, and the reality is that these ads are not doing a good job of helping consumers make better decisions about their health," said Dominick L. Frosch, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study. "If the pharmaceutical industry isn't willing to change the ads to make them more useful to consumers, Congress should consider passing legislation that will regulate the ads to improve the information provided in order to help patients make more informed choices."

Several members of Congress, including Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are calling for changes to FDA regulations of DTCA. Advocates for prescription drug ads claim that these ads educate consumers, improve the quality of care and contribute to better patient adherence. Opponents argue that they lead to inappropriate prescribing and portray nonmedical problems as treatable medical illnesses.

In a review of the evidence for and against DTCA, Frosch and his colleagues confirm that there are some benefits to drug ads, but they are limited and can be improved. The evidence clearly shows that there is significant risk and potential harm associated with the current format of prescription drug ads. The majority of ads fail to provide enough information to allow consumers to clearly identify whether the advertised drug is right for them. The over dramatization and emotional portrayal of a drug's benefits can also be misleading to consumers, while the message about its risks are often diluted by contradicting imagery.

In light of these findings, the authors of the study propose new guidelines to improve prescription drug ads so that they better serve the health choices of consumers:

  • Ads should help consumers identify whether treatment is right for them by explaining how prevalent the relevant conditions are. They should also describe who may be at risk for conditions that don't present obvious symptoms. For conditions that do present obvious symptoms, they should describe what those symptoms are.
  • Ads should provide accurate and specific information about the potential benefits of advertised drugs, and should help consumers realistically judge those benefits by providing precise quantitative information. The ads should state how this drug compared to placebo or other available treatments, including generic drugs.
  • Ads should provide specific quantitative information about the potential risks associated with drugs without other visual or audio distractions, so consumers can better understand the risks associated with the .
The study, "A Decade of Controversy: Balancing Policy with Evidence in the Regulation of Prescription Drug Advertising" will be published online in the on November 12th.

Source: Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Poor sleep could lead to heavier drinking in young adults, study finds

December 8, 2017
A shortened night of sleep may increase young adults' risk of heavier drinking, according to a new Yale study that assessed reciprocal variations in sleep and drinking over time in young adults.

Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn't work

December 8, 2017
Potato chips, frozen pizza, a fast food hamburger-these foods are popular in the American diet and saturated with sodium. Though eating too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, 90 percent of Americans eat ...

Observation care may save more than thought

December 8, 2017
In the world of health care spending policy, it usually works that as Medicare goes so goes private insurance on matters of managing the cost and quality of care.

Screen time before bed linked with less sleep, higher BMIs in kids

December 7, 2017
It may be tempting to let your kids stay up late playing games on their smartphones, but using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to Penn State College of Medicine ...

Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth, says research

December 7, 2017
For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors—yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

Teen girls 'bombarded and confused' by sexting requests: study

December 7, 2017
Adolescent women feel intense pressure to send sexual images to men, but they lack the tools to cope with their concerns and the potential consequences, according to new Northwestern University research published Wednesday, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.