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Doctors Call for an End to Prescription Drug Ads

But only Congress can ban the practice

Drug companies spend about $4.5 billion annually on advertising in the U.S. Getty Images

The American Medical Association has called for an end to direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical devices.

The AMA, which represents about 250,000 physicians nationwide, reversed its previous stance on the issue following a vote at the group's annual meeting in Atlanta.

"Today's vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices," said AMA board chair-elect Patrice Harris in a statement. "Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

The AMA's vote has no binding power. Such a ban would require congressional authorization. Still, the AMA maintains a powerful lobbying presence in Washington, and today's vote is seen as the first salvo in an effort to turn prescription drug ads into an election issue in 2016.

All told, drug companies spend about $4.5 billion annually in the U.S. advertising prescription remedies and implantable devices, according to Kantar Media. Spending has been on the rise, and the direct-to-consumer prescription drug category has become a major source of revenue for the TV and magazine industries.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents drug companies, said scientifically accurate direct-to-consumer ads provide information to patients that help make them better choices.  "Research shows that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners," Tina Stow, a spokeswoman for PhRMA, told Bloomberg today.

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