Drug advertising guidelines draw criticism

Critics contend that DTC promotion boosts medical costs.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Pharmaceutical marketers are trying to appease critics of consumer drug advertising by offering voluntary guidelines that aim to halt some of the more offending practices. Members of Congress and patient advocates, however, regard the new policy approved by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) as meaningless because its provisions can't be enforced. But the new policy most likely means no more ads for erectile dysfunction (ED) treatments during the Super Bowl.

The guidelines, which have been adopted by some 25 drug companies, support the basic premise that DTC drug advertising is beneficial-that it informs doctors and patients about useful treatments and promotes better healthcare. Critics contend that DTC promotion boosts medical costs, and encourages inappropriate treatment, and should be eliminated altogether. Because First Amendment protections prevent an outright DTC ad ban, patient advocate Sidney Wolfe of the Health Research Group seeks more stringent DTC regulation, including preclearance of TV commercials by the Food and Drug Administration plus fines on marketers using violative promotional materials.

The PhRMA guidelines advise drug marketers to present balanced ads that disclose risks and benefits (i.e., follow existing FDA rules) and contain provisions that could change certain marketing practices. These include: