Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pharmaceutical advertising - is it appropriate? (No)

It goes without saying that great deal of the advertising on American television is rather absurd, but I find that the absurdity reaches a particular high with “Direct to Consumer” (DTC) advertising for pharmaceutical products. Unlike in Ireland, and most of the developed world, Pharma manufacturers are free to put adverts for their blockbuster products on TV so long as they are fair and balanced.

This “fair and balanced” concept means that the advert must devote a good deal of time to the possible adverse side effects caused by the drug – which tends to result in rather ridiculous endings to these ads where horrific side effect - after horrific side effect - are read out.

When I was on my travels recently I saw an advert for the contraceptive pill “Yaz”. (In a side note, I find this ad to be particularly bizarre, the fact that one of the friends starts to talk about the virtues of Yaz in such a scientific way is just... odd)

The FDA, which in theory controls what these ads can and cannot say, forced the makers of Yaz to run a commercial to “clear up” some unclear information in the above ad. My favourite line in this clear up is the following

“Yaz is for the treatment of PMDD and moderate acne, not for the treatment of PMS or mild acne”

...I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent but I’m not quite sure if my brain is able to decide which is worse mild acne, or moderate acne?

The argument behind allowing Pharma to go DTC is that is helps educate the consumer as to the choices available to them, and to be fair I suppose in the case of some commercials this is true. However on the most part the adverts seem to act as a method of scare mongering, listing off a selection of adequately vague symptoms that captures about 75% of the population – do you often feel tired? – angry? – overly happy? - then this is the drug for you... the list goes on

Well some bright spark decided that it might be a good idea to compare the average health literacy score (where there is DTC advertising) with a country where there is not, and for the purpose of this comparison Americas neighbour to the north was chosen. Below is the graph detailing average health literacy by sex of each nation. Now while the data may not be perfect, we can clearly see that the US score is at best essentially the same, and is clearly not superior to that of a country which does not permit DTC advertising.

My personal leaning on this matter are very much toward the non-DTC camp. Healthcare is not really something to be toyed around with, and in my opinion should be left firmly in the hands of qualified healthcare providers. I also understand that in non-DTC countries, like Ireland, the advertising efforts are redirected towards doctors via sales reps, however I think you can trust that a qualified doctor is much less likely to be swayed by glossy pamphlets and a few free pens. (bribing of doctors is another days post).
Healthcare should be kept in the hands of doctors and not advertisers, and let’s hope that someday the US government see that point.

No comments: