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Prescription drugs and direct-to-consumer advertising

UPDATE 08-06-10: Part two of Ishmeal Bradley's series was published today on Clinical Correlations. In this segment, he discusses how direct-to-consumer advertising shapes physician prescribing behavior.

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We all know that lady: the one who shuffles into commercials looking frumpy and generically dissatisfied. She's usually cast in grey, wears sweat pants, tosses and turns in bed, sits slumped over on a couch, gazes longingly out a living-room window. Sometimes she sneezes or sniffles; sometimes she grips her stomach or her forehead. But always, by the end of scene, she's practically euphoric - not only restored to color but surrounded by rainbows and butterflies. The cause of her metamorphosis: a pill.

To people in their twenties or younger, direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs by pharmaceutical companies is the norm. But as Ishmeal Bradley, MD, writes on Clinical Correlations, it's a relatively new phenomenon and important questions about the practice persist:

Are drug companies really doing the public a service by disseminating this type of information? Can the motive to increase prescription volume (and profits) be reconciled with this goal of consumer education? Is this form of advertising really in the public’s best interest?

In part one of a three-part series, Bradley lays the foundation on which he'll build an answer. The main points: (1) DTC advertising is protected under the doctrine of commercial free speech; (2) it's regulated, but by an understaffed, over-taxed FDA; (3) broadcast advertisements for prescription drugs have been permitted since 1997; and (4) between that time and 2005, the amount of money drug companies spent on DTC ads quadrupled to $4.2 billion.

I'm looking forward to part two of Bradley's series, in which he'll examine the effects of advertising on drug costs and physician prescribing behavior.

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