AMA Calls for Ban on Consumer Ads for Prescription Drugs

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By Miriam Zoila Pérez — November 19, 2015

Earlier this week the American Medical Association (AMA) took a bold step and called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs and medical devices.

The AMA is the largest professional association for physicians, and has significant influence on medical policy and decision-making.

The AMA notes:

The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Advertising dollars spent by drug makers have increased by 30 percent in the last two years to $4.5 billion, according to the market research firm Kantar Media.

The concerns outlined in this statement are focused on drug affordability, and the idea that DTC ads can sometimes push patients toward more costly and non-generic drug options: “Physicians cited concerns that a growing proliferation of ads is driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives.” They are also concerned that the incredible amount of money spent on DTC advertising might be contributing to the rising costs of the drugs themselves.

OBOS has addressed the many concerns with DTCA in the past. An article from 2011 reiterated why we think it’s a dangerous practice:

Ads aimed at healthy people who can be persuaded to take a drug daily for the rest of their lives clearly target the industry’s most desirable customer base. The overselling of postmenopausal hormones, supported by the depiction of natural menopause as a “hormone deficiency disease” that needed “hormone replacement therapy,” was the forerunner to this type of sales pitch, which now permeates the media. Aging, social anxiety disorder, heartburn, restless leg syndrome, and overactive bladder are all examples of symptoms or normal physiological events that are now presented to consumers as being in need of long-term drug treatment.

In addition to pathologizing normal conditions, the accuracy of these ads is often called into question, and there is little oversight for them. The Food and Drug Administration, who is tasked with overseeing prescription drug advertising activities, does not review the ads before they run, and can only take action after the fact if an ad is seen as inaccurate or misleading. According to the FDA, banning this kind of advertising would require an act of Congress.

Hopefully AMA’s new policy is one more step in the right direction toward banning these advertisements altogether.

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