Watch Out for Misleading Pharmaceutical Advertising
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration relaxed the rules for drug advertising on television and radio. Since that time, the airwaves have been flooded with commercials for all sorts of drugs. Some of them are vague, with a simple “Ask your doctor if drug x is right for you”; others spell out what the drug is used for and devote the commercial to telling you how much you will appreciate your product. Most consumers will probably assume that these commercials are honest, that the drugs will do what the ads say they will do, and that there are no side effects other than those mentioned in the ad. That may not be true, and consumers should be aware that the ads may not tell the whole story, and that they may be misleading.
The pharmaceutical industry spends $9 billion per year advertising their products, and the money they spend on television and radio ads is probably the most effective. Doctors may be skeptical of a product touted by a salesman, but consumers are easily swayed by television ads that show people living happy, productive lives while being treated for an ailment using the advertised product. Unfortunately, these ads may not be completely honest. In 2004, the FDA investigated thirty-six ads for drugs that the agency found to be misleading or incomplete in their descriptions of side effects. Consumers might think that the commercials must be honest, since the FDA wouldn’t allow dishonest commercials to air. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The FDA does not require pharmaceutical companies to provide screening copies of their advertisements prior to airing. The FDA doesn’t actually see the ads until the consumers do. Several months may pass before the FDA takes action. In the case of misleading advertising, the most the FDA can usually do is ask the companies to either stop running the ads or to change them. These requests aren’t always timely, however. In the last five years, the FDA has asked the drug companies to stop running several ads that had already stopped running!
What this means for consumers is that some doubt should be exercised while viewing a commercial for a new drug. If you think an advertised product may be useful to you, discuss it with your physician, but ask if they know of any problems associated with the product. Research the product on the Internet. When your health is at stake, a little caution may be a good idea.