TV drug ads: The whole truth?

September 16, 2013, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

Consumers should be wary when watching those advertisements for pharmaceuticals on the nightly TV news, as six out of 10 claims could potentially mislead the viewer, say researchers in an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers Adrienne E. Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and David H. Kreling of The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy found that potentially misleading claims are prevalent throughout consumer-targeted prescription and non-prescription drug advertisements on television.

Over the past 15 years, researchers and policymakers have debated whether drug informs consumers about new drugs, or persuades consumers to take medicines that they may not need. "Healthcare consumers need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health," said Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute, "but these TV drug ads had misleading statements that omitted or exaggerated information. These results conflict with arguments that drug ads are helping inform consumers."

Pharmaceutical companies spent $4.8 billion in 2009, surpassing consumer promotion for nonprescription products of $3 billion that year, the researchers said.

Content for this study came from the Vanderbilt TV News Archive, an indexed archive of recordings of the nightly news broadcasts (the news and commercial segments) on ABC, CBS, and NBC since 1968 and on CNN since 1992. Researchers viewed advertisements in the 6:30-8:30 pm EST period because the nightly news is a desirable time slot for drug advertisers because of the older audience that watches the nightly news.

The researchers reviewed 168 TV advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter drugs aired between 2008 and 2010, and identified statements that were strongly emphasized in the ad. A team of trained analysts then classified those claims as being truthful, potentially misleading or false.

They found that false claims, which are factually false or unsubstantiated, were rare, with only 1 in 10 claims false. False advertising is illegal and can lead to criminal and civil penalties.

Most claims were potentially misleading – 6 in 10 claims left out important information, exaggerated information, provided opinions, or made meaningless associations with lifestyles, the researchers said.

False or potentially misleading claims may be more frequent in over-the-counter drug ads than ads for – 6 of 10 claims in prescription drug ads were misleading or false, while 8 of 10 claims in OTC drug ads were misleading or false.

The Food and Drug Administration oversees prescription while the Federal Trade Commission oversees advertising for nonprescription drugs.

The FDA and FTC have different definitions of false and . For example, the FDA interpretation says prescription drug advertising must include information about the harms of the drug, but information on harms is left out of most OTC drug ads.

The researchers said there were some limitations in the study method: the sample was drawn from a 30-minute period of the TV broadcast day on four major networks, and does not represent all ads on TV. Also, they only analyzed what they determined as the most-emphasized claim in each advertisement and the coders need to interpret the meaning of claims to facilitate analysis, which did introduce subjectivity.

"Healthcare need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health, "said Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute. "Consumers may see up to 30 hours of television drug advertising each year, while only spending 15 to 20 minutes, on average, at each visit with their primary care physician."

Explore further: When prescription drugs go OTC, ads talk less of harms: study

Related Stories

When prescription drugs go OTC, ads talk less of harms: study

September 11, 2012
(HealthDay)—When prescription drugs become available over-the-counter, advertisements for the medications are far less likely to tell consumers about the potential harms and side effects, new research finds.

Study to examine direct-to-consumer drug ads on TV

September 14, 2011
Do pharmaceutical ads educate patients and improve health -- or merely spur drug sales?

Kids' fast food ads emphasize giveaways more than food

August 28, 2013
Fast-food marketing aimed at children emphasizes giveaways and movie tie-ins much more frequently than ads targeted at adults, according to research published August 28 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by James Sargent ...

US cracks down on illegal diabetes remedies

July 23, 2013
(AP)—The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on more than a dozen U.S. and foreign companies that market illegal treatments for diabetes, ranging from bogus dietary supplements to prescription drugs sold online ...

Recommended for you

In most surgery patients, length of opioid prescription, number of refills spell highest risk for misuse

January 17, 2018
The possible link between physicians' opioid prescription patterns and subsequent abuse has occupied the attention of a nation in the throes of an opioid crisis looking for ways to stem what experts have dubbed an epidemic. ...

Patients receive most opioids at the doctor's office, not the ER

January 16, 2018
Around the country, state legislatures and hospitals have tightened emergency room prescribing guidelines for opioids to curb the addiction epidemic, but a new USC study shows that approach diverts attention from the main ...

FDA bans use of opioid-containing cough meds by kids

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Trying to put a dent in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday slapped strict new restrictions on the use of opioid-containing cold and cough products by kids.

Taking ibuprofen for long periods found to alter human testicular physiology

January 9, 2018
A team of researchers from Denmark and France has found that taking regular doses of the pain reliever ibuprofen over a long period of time can lead to a disorder in men called compensated hypogonadism. In their paper published ...

Nearly one-third of Canadians have used opioids: study

January 9, 2018
Nearly one in three Canadians (29 percent) have used "some form of opioids" in the past five years, according to data released Tuesday as widespread fentanyl overdoses continue to kill.

Growing opioid epidemic forcing more children into foster care

January 8, 2018
The opioid epidemic has become so severe it's considered a national public health emergency. Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and morphine, has contributed to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and ...

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.