For personal use. Only reproduce with permission from The Lancet Publishing Group.
THE LANCET • Vol 358 • October 6, 2001
Pharmaceutical companies spent US$1·8
prescription drugs in 1999. Our aim was to establish what
messages are being communicated to the public by these
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.
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.
Provision of complete information about the
benefit of prescription drugs in advertisements would serve
the interests of physicians and the public.
prescription drug appeared in
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
Although they concluded that “direct to
the public prescription advertising was not in the
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.
specifically, that they presented true and balanced
information about the side-effects of the drugs,
The FDA monitors compliance with these criteria.
However, prior approval of drug advertisements is not
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.