FDA To Review TV Drug Ads


WASHINGTON — As the number of prescription-drug commercials on television continues to skyrocket, federal regulators are beginning to explore whether the ads are causing more harm than good, Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal reported.

So-called direct-to-consumer advertising has expanded rapidly since 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance about the types of television spots drug companies could run. Spending on TV ads for prescription drugs has more than quadrupled, to $1.13 billion in 1999 from $220 million in 1996, says IMS Health and Competitive Media Reporting, which didn’t have more-recent figures available. At the same time, the number of complaints from patients and doctors about the ads has also increased, with doctors saying they are bombarded with requests from patients wanting the latest — and usually most expensive — drugs.

Now the FDA is starting a long-planned review of the policy that unleashed the explosive growth in ads. It says it will examine whether drug ads “confuse consumers and adversely impact the relationship between patients and their health-care providers.” Among other things, the agency is proposing to commission two surveys — one of patients, the other of doctors — to help it decide whether the 1997 guidance, which was finalized in 1999, should be changed, rescinded or kept in place. The agency hopes to complete its review by year’s end.

Critics of the advertising, including many physicians and insurers, aren’t expecting the FDA to reverse course and begin blocking the ads. But the agency review — along with debate in Congress over soaring drug costs — gives critics a platform to demand that the advertising be reined in.

Copyright (c) 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.