Should we ban consumer drug ads? - Press release from PLoS Medicine

Is advertising medicines to consumers harmful or helpful?

The US and New Zealand are the only industrialized countries that allow direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs, although New Zealand is planning a ban. Is it time for the US to also ban the practice? In a debate in the open access medical journal PLoS Medicine, authors with divergent viewpoints lay out the possible public health benefits and harms from such advertising.

Richard Kravitz (University of California, Davis), lead author of a recent study on DTCA, argues that DTCA should be regulated, rather than banned. Kravitz argues that DTCA could be used to promote the use of life-saving medicines, such as beta-blocker drugs for people who have had a heart attack. "On a population basis," he says, "underuse of effective therapies may cause more deaths per year than overuse."

DTCA could deliver net public health benefits, says Kravitz, provided it was used only to advertise safe, effective, underused drugs for serious medical conditions. "The question for US policymakers is not whether DTCA should be banned," he says, "but how can its benefits be maximized and risks minimized within our free enterprise system."

Elizabeth Almasi and Randall Stafford (Stanford University) hypothesize that DTCA might in fact produce a valuable placebo effect. They argue that such advertising is likely to raise patients' expectations about a medicine's benefits, which "may increase the effectiveness of medications beyond that which is expected from their purely biological mechanisms."

And such raised expectations, they argue, might even motivate patients to collaborate with their physicians, and thereby increase the quality of their care.

But although there may be some evidence of benefits from DTCA, argues Peter Mansfield (Director of the nonprofit organization Healthy Skepticism, at www.healthyskepticism.org), there is stronger evidence of harms.

In his critique of DTCA, Mansfield says that "DTCA is limited to drugs that are profitable to advertise: mostly expensive, new drugs for long-term use for common indications. Such advertising increases premature rapid uptake and overuse of new drugs before flaws, including safety problems, have been discovered and communicated to health professionals."

Such advertising, he argues, "aims to persuade rather than to inform," and studies of DTCA have found that the information is usually flawed and incomplete. "There's a better way than DTCA," says Mansfield. DTCA should be banned, he says, and replaced with unbiased, publicly funded health information campaigns.

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Citation: Almasi EA, Stafford RS, Kravitz RL, Mansfield PR (2006) What are the public health effects of direct-to-consumer drug advertising? PLoS Med 3(3): e145.

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030145

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-03-03-almasi.pdf

CONTACTS:
Elizabeth Almasi
Stanford University
Stanford Prevention Research Center
Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road
Stanford, CA 94309, USA
+1-925-354-7522
+1-650-725-6906 (fax)
ealmasi@stanford.edu

Randall Stafford
Stanford University
Stanford Prevention Research Center
Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road
Stanford, CA 94305-5705, USA
+1-650-724-2400
+1-650-725-6906 (fax)
rstafford@stanford.edu

Richard Kravitz
University of California Davis
Center for Health Services in Primary Care
2103 Stockton Blvd
2226 Grange Bldg
Sacramento, CA 95817, USA
rlkravitz@ucdavis.edu

Peter Mansfield
Healthy Skepticism Inc.
34 Methodist St
Willunga, SA 5172, Australia
peter@healthyskepticism.org

About PLoS Medicine

PLoS Medicine is an open access, freely available international medical journal. It publishes original research that enhances our understanding of human health and disease, together with commentary and analysis of important global health issues. For more information, visit http://www.plosmedicine.org

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit http://www.plos.org


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