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MedPointe: Drug Not Driving Force for Ad

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NEW YORK Drug maker MedPointe is courting controversy with a new TV spot for its allergy stopper Astelin that shows a user behind the wheel even though the drug's side effects can make users drowsy.

The ad, which broke this month, shows a woman in her car, stuck in traffic. Her car is then surrounded by a barbershop quartet, which advises her to try Astelin for her allergy symptoms.

The drug's official prescribing information sheet for doctors contains a warning that caution should be exercised "when driving a car or operating potentially dangerous machinery." Among the drug's main side effects are sleepiness (experienced by 11.5 percent of users), fatigue (2.3 percent) and dizziness (2 percent).

The ad comes as the media buzzes with stories of Ambien-induced driving accidents.

John Hawkins, evp and founder of MedPointe, stood by the ad: "The point of the scene is that she has not been dosed or taken Astelin," said Hawkins via e-mail last week. "The [singers] suggest that, after consulting her doctor, she may benefit from taking Astelin." Executives at the ad's creator, Interpublic Group's McCann Erickson in New York, could not be reached.

Medical professionals had mixed feelings about the ad. "I generally find DTC advertising inappropriate as these ads are marketing tools for the particular drug," said Dr. Andrew Murphy of Downingtown, Pa. "They do not, in general, 'advertise' a disease state and thus increase awareness."

Dr. Bruce Prenner, associate clinical professor at the University of San Diego's school of medicine in La Jolla, Calif., said the spot did not bother him since doctors can advise patients not to drive. "Where I get offended is when some commercials make you feel like they solve everything," he said.