Drug Ads’ Survival Hangs in Balance

Now that the Food and Drug Administration has said it will issue new guidelines for prescription-drug ads this fall, one option would be to eliminate the ads, according to a notice published in the Federal Register last week.

The FDA said it will hold a two-day public meeting Sept. 22 and 23 to study the latest research on direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs. At issue: whether such ads make consumers aware of potential life-threatening situations, as the pharmaceutical industry maintains, or drive up healthcare costs, as consumer groups and some lawmakers contend. The FDA will consider “whether the guidance … should be withdrawn, continued, or modified to reflect the agency’s current thinking,” the notice said.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers helped defeat two proposals in June by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., to impose limits on the ads. The two groups intend to provide research supporting DTC ads at the meeting.

“[The FDA is] going to look at the full range of options,” said Dan Jaffe, evp of government relations at the ANA. “This keeps the spotlight firmly on DTC advertising.”

Dick O’Brien, evp of the 4A’s, believes the FDA will find a strong scientific basis for continuing the DTC ads, on which drug companies spent $2.5 billion last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/ CMR. “That said, there can always be a surprise,” O’Brien said.