Do we want direct to consumer drug advertising in the UK?

I’ve written about this subject before – in the USA, advertising direct to consumers works in tandem with the huge effort Big Pharma puts in ‘working’ with Doctors to push their products.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) is the UK pharmaceutical industry’s main industry body and lobby group. Members include seventy five companies in the UK producing prescription medicines, supplying more than 90 per cent of the medicines prescribed through the National Health Service (NHS).

The ABPI has long been lobbying for relaxation of the regulations governing promotion and advertising of prescription medicine. After the US Food and Drug Administration changed its rules to allow direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing in 1997 the ABPI began its campaign for DTC marketing in Britain and Europe.

The problem is, is that DTC advertising is actually not well liked in the USA. New research released yesterday paints a picture that the ABPI would rather not see:

More than four out of five Americans think drug companies have too much influence over the Food and Drug Administration, and 84 percent believe that advertisements for prescription drugs with safety concerns should be outlawed, reveals a striking new survey from Consumer Reports.

The survey results, released today, are based on a telephone survey of 1,026 American adults conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. They reveal the Food and Drug Administration to be alarmingly out of touch with the concerns of the American people. Some of the most interesting results include:

• 84 percent agree that advertisements should be outlawed for drugs with safety concerns. The United States is the only advanced nation in the world that allows drug companies to advertise directly to consumers. It was legalized in 1998 by the FDA, following political pressure and influence from the drug companies who knew that being able to promote fictitious diseases and push brand-name drugs would result in windfall profits. (Some drugs are sold at markups as high as 300,000% over the cost of their ingredients.)

• 91 percent said they had seen a drug advertisement on television or in print (a “victory” accomplished by the FDA legalizing such ads in 1998), and 26 percent said they asked their doctor for a brand-name medication after learning about it from an advertisement. This is the purpose of advertising, of course: To increase sales of drugs, not — as is claimed by Big Pharma and the FDA — to “educate” patients about medical treatments.

• 75 percent agreed that the allowing of drug advertising has resulted in the over-prescribing of pharmaceuticals. Fifty-nine percent said the government should restrict pharmaceutical advertising, and 26 percent said they “strongly agree” with such restrictions.

Direct-to-consumer advertising is the bread and butter of Big Pharma, and it is the primary reason the industry has exploded its revenues and influence since 1998. The invention and marketing of fictitious diseases via television advertising has proven instrumental to the drug industry’s successful pushing of medically unjustified drugs onto consumers. (See the Disease Mongering Engine to invent your own fictitious diseases and disorders right now!)

• The survey further revealed 54 percent of consumers think that viewing drug advertisements allows them to “take charge of their health care.” The survey did not, however, reveal whether these people were in fact suffering from deterimental cognitive side effects at the moment they were taking the survey. Statistically, it seems reasonable to assume that approximately half of the adults taking the survey were on drugs at the time they were answering the survey questions.

• 96 percent agreed the government should have the power to require warning labels on drugs with known safety problems. As Consumer Reports explains, “Right now, the Food and Drug Administration must negotiate safety warning labels with a drug maker.”

• 84 percent agree that drug companies have “too much influence over the government officials who regulate them.” More than two-thirds of those surveyed are concerned that drug companies actually pay the FDA to review and approve their drugs. It’s a situation that turns drug companies into the “customers” of the FDA.

• 92 percent agree that pharmaceutical companies should disclose the results of ALL clinical trials, not just the ones with positive results that they wish to publicize. (Currently, drug companies can bury negative drug trials, and the FDA has in fact been caught conspiring with drug companies to keep negative drug data secret from the public.)

• 93 percent think that the FDA should have the power to demand follow-up safety studies from drug companies. Currently, the FDA has no authority to require follow-up safety studies on drugs after they are introdued to the market. This is a serious oversight shortfall, given that many problems with drugs only appear after widespread use. (Patients are widely used as guinea pigs in any new drug launch.)

• 60 percent agreed that doctors and scientists with a financial conflict of interest should not be allowed to serve on FDA advisory boards (what were the other 40 percent thinking?). Currently, doctors who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in “consulting fees” from drug companies are not only allowed to vote on the recommendations for FDA approval of their drugs, there is not even any FDA requirement to disclose such conflicts of interest. (See related cartoon on FDA Conflicts of Interest)

• More than half of those surveyed said they are currently taking prescription drugs, indicating that more than half of American adults are now on drugs. Forty percent said they have experienced a negative reaction (side effect) from taking prescription medications. (See related cartoon on side effects.)

Most side effects go unreported, and there is currently no enforced legal requirement that doctors or drug companies report known side effects to the FDA. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, prescription drugs currently kill approximately 100,000 Americans each year. None of those deaths are accurately recorded as “death by pharmaceuticals.”

The entire article “Americans fed up with drug industry influence, FDA corruption, reveals remarkable Consumer Reports survey” can be read here.


2 Responses to “Do we want direct to consumer drug advertising in the UK?”

  1. Matthew Holford Says:

    “Do we want DTC advertising in the UK?”

    Only if:
    1. We’re given a regulator and a Ministry with a set of balls and a brain (each), such that they can live up to their names.
    2. Our MPs acknowledge their primary role as public servants.
    3. Consumer Protection/Advertising Law is tightened up, such that the advertiser has to prove its claims, rather than the consumer disprove them.
    4. Avenues of complaint generally are opened up.
    5. Er, that’s it, until I think of something else.


  2. seroxat secrets… Drug marketing or patient information? « Says:

    […] May 21st, 2007 — admin I’ve written about direct to consumer marketing before – here and […]

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