Woloshin et al's Direct-to-Consumer Advertisements for Prescription Drugs-What Are Americans Being S

Woloshin et al's Direct-to-Consumer Advertisements for Prescription Drugs-What Are Americans Being S

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For personal use. Only reproduce with permission from The Lancet Publishing Group. ARTICLES THE LANCET • Vol 358 • October 6, 2001 1141 Summary Background Pharmaceutical companies spent US$1·8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs in 1999. Our aim was to establish what messages are being communicated to the public by these advertisements. Methods We investigated the content of advertisements, which appeared in ten magazines in the USA. We examined seven issues of each of these published between July, 1998, and July, 1999. Findings 67 advertisements appeared a total of 211 times during our study. Of these, 133 (63%) were for drugs to ameliorate symptoms, 54 (26%) to treat disease, and 23 (11%) to prevent illness. In the 67 unique advertisements, promotional techniques used included emotional appeals (45, 67%) and encouragement of consumers to consider medical causes for their experiences (26, 39%). More advertisements described the benefit of medication with vague, qualitative terms (58, 87%), than with data (9, 13%). However, half the advertisements used data to describe side-effects, typically with lists of side-effects that generally occurred infrequently. None mentioned cost. Interpretation Provision of complete information about the benefit of prescription drugs in advertisements would serve the interests of physicians and the public. Lancet 2001; 358: 1141–46 Introduction The first direct-to-consumer advertisement for a prescription drug appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1981 in USA. 1,2 Over the next few years, other such advertisements were published, and the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) became worried that little was known about the potential effect of such advertisements on the public. Consequently, in 1983, the FDA initiated an advertising moratorium while it studied the issues and considered the regulatory options. 2,3 Although they concluded that “direct to the public prescription advertising was not in the public interest,” 3 the FDA lifted the moratorium in 1985 because of concerns about freedom of speech and a general consensus that regulations already in place were sufficient to protect the consumer. 4 After the moratorium had been lifted, direct- to-consumer advertising was permitted provided that the advertisements met certain criteria; specifically, that they presented true and balanced information about the side-effects of the drugs, and their contraindications and effectiveness. 5 The FDA monitors compliance with these criteria. However, prior approval of drug advertisements is not required. Reaction to direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs is mixed. Proponents argue that it provides consumers with information about treatment options, and might help to increase public awareness, and consequently treatment, of serious diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or depression.
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Woloshin et al's Direct-to-Consumer Advertisements for Prescription Drugs-What Are Americans Being S

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