The annual budget for drug advertising in the United States exceeds that for all undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and comes close to the entire budget of the National Institutes of Health. In 2008 drug advertisers spent $4.7 billion, down from a record $4.8 billion in 2006, but up from $2.6 billion in 2002. Since the relaxation of full disclosure rules for television advertising, the amount spent on direct-to-consumer advertisements (DTCA) has soared, leading to increased sales of certain pharmaceuticals, as advertisements are placed in magazines, newspapers, internet websites and on television. These prescription-drug ads prompt nearly one-third of Americans to ask their doctors about an advertised medicine, and 82% of those who ask say their physicians recommended a prescription. Opposite sides of this practice argue over whether consumers are educated and empowered by these advertisements or encouraged to seek out unnecessary drugs and treatments. Experts analyzing drug advertisements found inaccuracies, misrepresentations and other deficiencies, such as minimizing adverse reactions, misleading efficacy explanations, misusing statistics, promoting products to inappropriate populations, and using headlines and subheads not supported by the rest of the advertisement (or the drug). Of even greater concern, for many, is the fact that pharmaceutical companies aggressively market these products to parents and caregivers for use by their children.
My research will focus on hidden dangers of two specific pharmaceutical products advertised in this fashion: the side effects, contraindications, and even life-threatening risks that are not easily found in these advertisements. The two products studied will be Vyvanse, a medication to control Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Gardasil, a vaccine designed to prevent certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. Both products are controversial, in part due to the manner in which they are aggressively advertised: Vyvanse because it is a Class II drug advertised primarily in women's magazines, and Gardasil because it is a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease, advertised in catchy television spots, as well as in print and electronic media.
My method for analyzing the common and hidden dangers of these drugs will involve studying the actual product packet information included with these prescriptions. I will study the information contained in these publications not just under risks or side effects but also throughout the entire packet. By analyzing the actual product information of these products, as well as published accounts of adverse reactions to these products, I will present the hidden dangers that many parents may never know. More importantly, I will analyze the role of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the roles played by the public, the government, drug companies, and doctors in a very complicated pharmaceutical web. Of particular significance are certain pieces of legislation that have been passed in an effort to regulate drug promotion and advertising. With these laws in place and with the current role of the FDA, the best interests of the American public are not being protected with current drug approval and advertisement practices. Changes are needed in both the approval process of new drugs and the advertisement procedures related to pharmaceutical products.
The article was presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Ohio Academy of Medical History held on Saturday, May 16 at the Medical Heritage Center in Columbus, OH.
Ohio Academy of Medical History
Digital Services Department, Wright State University Libraries
(2009). Direct to Consumer Drug Advertisements: A Dangerous Game of Pitching Products to Parents. .