Merck/Schering-Plough has been forced to pull several ads for Vytorin recently due to concerns that the prescription drug ads may be misleading or not truthful with consumers. Vytorin is a prescription drug prescribed to treat high cholesterol. A study questioning Vytorin’s effectiveness has just been released.
The most grievous problem with prescription drug ads that are directed at consumers is that they do not give consumers complete information that would allow them to make informed decisions about what might help them when suffering various health problems. They do not give enough of the right kind of information.
Lawmakers are now targeting prescription drug ads and are questioning whether these ads are marketing tools or flagrant deceptions designed to sell drugs instead of help people. In 2006 the pharmaceutical industry spent almost $5 billion on prescription drugs directed at consumers. This is an 80 percent rise over what was spent in 2002. This advertising campaign is producing huge results for the pharmaceutical industry. Every dollar they spend results in $6 in increased sales. This increase is larger than what has been spent on research and development for new drugs in the past ten years.
These ads obviously highlight the benefits of the drug and minimize and gloss over the risks. In fact, 80% of the consumers who saw any drug advertisements only remembered the benefits. Only 20% were able to recall any side effects. Perhaps this may be due to the fact that the risks are typically tacked onto the end of the ad and are rattled off at a very fast rate of speech while visual distractions are simultaneously shown.
This misrepresentation of pharmaceuticals necessitates doctors spending extensive time to fully explain specific drugs that patients are now requesting. Very often these drugs are not a good option for consumers when weighed carefully with all the benefits and side effects. For example, the cholesterol prescription drug Lipitor has recently been drawing criticism about various misimpressions. Advertisements for both Lipitor and Vytorin have now been voluntarily removed from broadcasting.
There are also concerns that the FDA is not effectively regulating these advertisements. The FDA contacts companies with warnings if it finds violations. Unfortunately, it took the FDA over six months to issue these letters in 2007.
In 2007, lawmakers created a voluntary system for drug companies to pay a fee to have the FDA review their ads before they would be aired. One hundred drug companies signed up to be reviewed. This voluntary program would have raised over $11 million from the drug companies for prior review of their ads. Unfortunately, the program never began because Congress failed to give the FDA the authority to collect these fees from the pharmaceutical companies. The drug game continues but the rules appear to be changing.