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Pill Pushing Pharmaceutical Ads Often Mislead Consumers

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

The creative marketing of prescription drug companies continues to evolve with the growing importance of websites and social media. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with the overwhelming task of monitoring all prescription drug ads. This task has grown as drug companies have increased online marketing in efforts to further connect with consumers.

Despite the economic downturn, the pharmaceutical industry increased its marketing spending to $4.8 billion in America last year. This resulted in about 75,000 marketing items that the FDA now has to review each year with under 60 officials to do the job. The FDA itself admits it is unable to accomplish this task.

Examples of Deceptive Drug Marketing

The FDA does manage to catch some violations. Recently the agency reprimanded Allergen for its website promoting the eyelash enhancing drug Latisse. The drug maker touted the drugs benefits, but neglected to mention the unpleasant side effects which can include permanent darkening of eye color and hair growth elsewhere.

Bayer took social media marketing to a new level when it hired a nurse to present at a Tupperware-type party for moms, including popular mom bloggers. The nurse told the moms about Bayer’s intrauterine device (IUD) Mirena, promoting the device’s unproven wonders such as increasing intimacy and romance. The nurse, however, failed to disclose important potential risks of the IUD including loss of fertility. Some of the mom bloggers then mentioned the IUD in posts. The FDA issued a stern warning to Bayer for its actions.

Consequences of Prescription Drug Promotion

The United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs. It was not until 1997 that the FDA loosened regulations allowing drug companies to greatly expand into television advertising. According to National Public Radio, in the next decade and half the use of prescription drugs rose 71 percent. This added roughly $180 billion to Americans’ medical spending.

The Nielsen Company estimates that there are approximately 80 drug ads every hour on American television. Studies have shown that about a third of people who have seen a prescription drug ad discuss it with their doctor. It could be argued that providing consumers with information about drugs is a good thing since it makes them aware of medicines that may potentially help them. What seems evident, however, is that by advertising directly to patients drug companies have increased the amount Americans spend on prescriptions.

As drug companies aggressively move into online marketing with twitter feeds and blogs they may continue to fuel an increase in Americans’ appetite for prescriptions. To avoid being misled consumers should look beyond patient testimonials and instead to actual clinical data about a medication’s risks and benefits. One way to do this on websites it to click the link, often labeled “full prescribing information”, to the drug’s official FDA label.

If you feel you have been misled and injured by a prescription drug you should consult a lawyer knowledgeable about medical malpractice matters. An attorney can investigate your case and determine who may be liable for your injuries.

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