Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising Under Fire

Everyone knows prescription drugs are expensive. The question Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., wants answered is whether the advertising is driving up the cost.

A Senate consumer-affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing tomorrow to determine whether direct-to-consumer ad vertising of prescription drugs encourages more people to see their doctors, increases the number of prescriptions and ultimately drives up the cost of drugs.

A Dorgan representative said the senator only seeks information. But what advertising lobby groups fear is whether this is just the first step on the road to a bill that will permanently ban such ads. An estimated $2.6 billion was spent on drug advertising last year.

John Calfee, a resident scholar with the American Enter prise Institute, a public-policy research firm, will test ify on behalf of a coalition that includes the Association of National Advertisers, the American Advertising Federation and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Calfee will argue that consumers like the ads.

“A lot of people pay attention to the risk information in the print ads,” Calfee said. “A lot of people do talk to their doctors about what they see in the ads, but it is usually during their next appointment. It is unusual for them to call their doctor and make an appointment as a result of the ad.”

Critics argue that the advertising encourages people to pressure their doctors into writing prescriptions for expensive and possibly dangerous drugs. Supporters say the industry has a right to advertise its products.

“In a free society, shouldn’t drug companies be able to talk to the American public truthfully and non-deceptively about life-and-death issues?” asked Dan Jaffe, ANA evp. “The answer is clearly yes.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed its rules on drug advertising in 1997, allowing pharmaceutical companies to air commercials without listing every possible side effect. Companies are still required to include information about “major” risks.