Direct-to-consumer drug advertisements increasing by drug companies

In a March 19, 2001 issue of the American Medical News appeared an article that dealt with the changes in MD's practices due to drug companies increased advertising of prescription drugs directly to the consumers. For decades the drug industry predominantly spent all advertising efforts on getting doctors to prescribe their products. However, as of the last several years the drug companies have spent billions of dollars advertising to consumers in an attempt to get consumers to request certain drugs from doctors.

According to the article, in 1999, pharmaceutical companies spent about $1.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising. This represented an increase in spending of more than 1,000% since 1993. This was largely fueled by a boom in television advertising, which increased by more than 4,000% in that period. The numbers represent spending in thousands.

            TV ads    Print ads
         ----------   ---------
   1993     $24,879    $125,089
   1994     $35,738    $229,798
   1995     $54,816    $319,525
   1996    $219,983    $564,697
   1997    $309,584    $740,828
   1998    $664,413    $630,387
   1999  $1,127,107    $711,602

According to the National Institute for Health Care Management, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the effectiveness, efficiency and quality of America's health care system, the most successfully promoted prescription drugs represent five categories: antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering agents, gastric acid reducers, oral antihistamines and antihypertensives.

What most people may not be aware of is that drug ads need not receive Food and Drug Administration approval. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that all drug advertisements contain, among other things, brief summary information regarding side effects, contraindications and effectiveness.

Although some tout this new wave of advertising as a good thing, others see it as creating a problem between MDs and their patients. The article sums up this attitude by stating, "As a result, patients ask physicians about drugs they've seen advertised. Sometimes their questions provoke unpleasant confrontations."