AMA Finally Does About-Face on Consumer Drug Ads

The U.S. pharmaceutical market is the world’s largest, accounting for 40% of the industry’s global revenue and about 60% of its drug patents. Pharma supports the largest lobbying force in the nation and, according to a recent article in the prestigious BMJ (British Medical Journal), spends 19 promotional dollars for each dollar spent on basic research.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, which is a major revenue source for consumer magazines, television and a growing number of websites. In 2014, Pharma spent $4.5 billion on magazine and TV drug ads, a 21% increase over the prior year. In a recent issue of Time, 34 of the 152 pages were drug ads–that’s 22%.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long supported Pharma’s DTC efforts, as Pharma controls the bulk of medical research funds these days and supports medical journals with heavy advertising of their products. This is in sharp contrast to earlier times when the majority of research emanated from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) , funded by the federal government–and there were no drug ads in academic, peer-reviewed journals.

For the first time, a sufficient number of AMA decision-makers have noted that DTC ads increase patients requesting or even demanding more expensive treatments, even when the medication may be inappropriate. Such patient behavior, additionally fueled by Pharma providing coupons and other forms of financial assistance for their branded products, has contributed to the runaway costs of drugs and the continuous increase in overall medical costs in this country.

Pharma’s response was their usual: The goal of DTC advertising is to inform patients about treatment options.

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