Consumers Harmed When Drug Companies Misrepresent Side Effects

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

A 2010 study shows that 65 percent of people living in the United States take prescription medication. With so many people risking potentially adverse effects from prescription medications, it is important for patients to know what they are ingesting. In fact, federal law requires that drug companies properly communicate the side effects of certain medications that may cause harm or death to consumers.

What complicates this requirement, however, is drug companies’ increasingly common practice of misrepresenting a medication’s potentially harmful side effects in marketing campaigns. For example, television, radio and print advertisements often heavily emphasize a medication’s benefits while minimizing harmful side effects. Often, the side effects are listed in fine print or covered in highly technical, quickly-spoken voiceovers. Celebrex advertisements, for example, emphasize the drug’s pain-relieving benefits but gloss over the high risk of adverse health effects, including stroke and deadly heart attacks.

Many advertisements also use celebrity endorsements to play up a medication’s benefits and distract consumers from harmful side effects. Perhaps the most effective are paid endorsements from actual physicians, which can easily distract patients from harmful side effects or mislead patients who believe doctors will only endorse products that have no serious risk of negative side effects.

Bad information may lead many New Yorkers to take prescription medication that may prove harmful. In the case of paid physician product endorsements, a possible conflict of interest exists if they prescribe medication known to be more harmful or simply more expensive to patients who don’t need them. Prescription medication mistakes lead to 1.5 million people becoming ill or sustaining serious injuries every year, and complications from prescription medication result in about 100,000 deaths annually.

Source: Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert, “Drug Marketing”

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