Detailed Drug Risks in TV Ads ‘Waste of Time,’ FDA Official Says

Long lists of scary prescription drug side effects at the end of television advertisements are a waste of time for patients, one of the U.S.’s top drug regulators said.

“When they give the adverse events, or adverse reactions, it’s this litany of complaints” -- death, or “‘Don’t use if you have MAE1,’” said Richard Pazdur, director of the office of hematology and oncology products at the Food and Drug Administration.

“What patient knows what MAE1 is?” Pazdur said. “It’s just a waste of time.”

Pazdur’s remarks come after the FDA last year began studying whether long lists of side effects in TV ads may cause viewers to overlook the most dangerous aspects of the medicine. An agency document about the study said it might be best to list only the most serious side effects and cover any lesser risks with a statement saying there are other potential harms.

Pazdur spoke at a Friends of Cancer Research meeting Tuesday in Washington.

The pharmaceutical industry spent $3.1 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising in 2012, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The ads are required to include disclosures about potential side effects and other technical information.

Pazdur didn’t endorse a specific change to drug ads on television but said he “would encourage the agency to look at this whole advertising issue in a much more innovative approach.”

The FDA is surveying 1,500 study participants about ads with varying ranges of side-effect disclosure, then plans to measure their understanding of risk.

The FDA declined to say when the study will be complete.

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