Doctors Call for Drug Advertising Ban in Position Reversal

Why Do Drug Prices Keep Going Up?
  • American Medical Association pushes back on high drug prices
  • Drugmakers say ads help consumers learn about diseases

Drug companies should stop advertising directly to consumers, a major U.S. doctors group said Tuesday, declaring that the ads often push patients to more expensive treatments and inflate demand for therapies.

In a vote Tuesday at the group’s annual meeting in Atlanta, the American Medical Association called for an end to television commercials and magazine spreads that are used to pitch prescription drugs. It’s a change from the AMA’s previous position, which said the ads were fine as long as they were educational and accurate. The U.S. is one of the few countries that allows direct-to-consumer drug ads.

The vote “reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices,” AMA Board Chair-elect Patrice A. Harris said in a statement announcing the vote result. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

The AMA has a membership of about 235,000 U.S. doctors and medical students. Last year, the group spent $19.7 million on lobbying the U.S. government, making it the No. 5 spender in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which works on behalf of the drug industry, spent $16.6 million last year.

Consumer Ads

Drug ad spending has been rising. The pharmaceutical industry spent $4.54 billion on consumer ads in 2014, 21 percent more than a year earlier, according to Nielsen NV. Among the most-promoted drugs were Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis and Pfizer Inc.’s Lyrica and Viagra, Nielsen found.

Drugmakers say their ads can help patients learn more about diseases and their treatment options.

“Providing scientifically accurate information to patients so that they are better informed about their health care and treatment options is the goal of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising,” Tina Stow, a spokeswoman for PhRMA, said by e-mail. “Research shows that accurate information about disease and treatment options makes patients and doctors better partners.”

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