- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Advertisements for prescription drugs bombard us daily — in magazines, newspapers and on television.

These persuasive direct-to-consumer ads compete for our attention and our dollars, but do they better inform the audience or improve medical care and public health? Captivated by the latest news concerning Vioxx, Celebrex and nonprescription Aleve, Americans are now debating this question in the harsh light of reality.

The pharmaceutical industry spends about $3 billion yearly advertising to people who may not be able to judge the effectiveness or desirability of one drug over another. The American Medical Association published a study this year criticizing the pharmaceutical ads for their lack of information on cost, alternative treatment options and adverse effects.

The World Health Organization has said these ads may represent a conflict of interest between business goals and the rational use of drugs by the public. In Europe, advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers is prohibited; perhaps it is time we seriously consider such action here.

Excesses in U.S. pharmaceutical advertising now fuel the controversy over high drug prices and heighten concerns about newly revealed, potentially lethal drug side-effects. This obscures the industry’s history of developing new treatments and miraculous cures for a host of diseases and disorders.

The pharmaceutical industry defends its advertising, contending it is educational and encourages consumers to take part in managing their health care. I suggest public education on pharmaceuticals could be better handled by an independent group with no vested interest in increasing sales.

Pharmacy schools and medical schools nationwide are a source of qualified scientists and practitioners with expertise and knowledge in drug therapy, drug toxicity and cost-benefit analysis. These academic pharmacists and physicians could form the core of this educational enterprise.

Drawing upon these resources, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and the Association of American Medical Colleges could create an independent organization with the singular mission of public drug education through materials developed for print, broadcast and electronic media. This could replace all pharmaceutical advertising, presenting the information more credibly from a more unbiased source.

The pharmaceutical industry could underwrite this effort, possibly with government support, and reap new benefits. This would shift the spotlight from corporate profits to a posture of ethical and social responsibility.

Additional benefits would accrue, such as better informed consumers and a cutback in the excessive volume and huge cost of corporate advertising. This, in turn, would free more money for research and development. More research should bring novel drugs to market geared to the preventing and treating major diseases — drugs that could ultimately generate even greater profits, strengthening our pharmaceutical firms and the industry position as an integral part of the economy.

In place of continuing accusations of irresponsible advertising practices and consumers clamoring for the latest drugs, this could be a new win-win approach for all concerned.

Allan H. Conney is State of New Jersey Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide