It’s hard to turn on the TV or read the newspaper without being bombarded with advertisements promoting the latest and greatest blockbuster drug out on the market to treat your allergies or your receding hair line.
But soon we may see a crack down on these ads. Congress is expected to re-introduce legislation this year that would give the FDA the authority to put a moratorium on ads for new drugs.
Drug advertising aimed at consumers, a fast-growing category that reached $4.5 billion last year, will face hard scrutiny in the new Congress, according to industry critics in both the House and Senate.
The consumer ads will be on the griddle early in this session at hearings on the user fees that manufacturers pay to speed the reviewing of new drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. The user fee law will die in the fall unless Congress acts to renew it.
The pharmaceutical industry, which often gets what it asks for from Congress and the executive branch, seeks to renew the law and add a new set of user fees that would be pay salaries for additional F.D.A. employees to evaluate all consumer drug ads, before they are shown on television.
Drug companies say “trust us” and believe that any efforts to limit drug ads should be left up to the industry. Billy Tauzin is the president of the powerful trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
Mr. Tauzin’s organization issued voluntary guidelines for consumer ads, which took effect last year. Under the guidelines, the companies have promised to hold off on consumer advertising of a new medicine for an unspecified “appropriate” period.
The problem with drug ads is that they often play down side effects and try to convince the public that their new product is the greatest thing since sliced bread (or the last me-too drug they put out on the market). However, there are often cheaper and just as effective drugs on the market already.
Senator Kennedy is the sponsor of a bill in Congress that would give the FDA the authority to limit drug ads.
“Patients deserve the best and most accurate information about the medicines they take,” Senator Kennedy said in a statement. “An essential part of any drug safety proposal must be to give the F.D.A. the authority and resources it needs to oversee direct-to-consumer advertising, and to allow the F.D.A. to impose conditions or limits on that advertising, where needed to protect the public health.”
In case you missed how much drug companies spent on drug advertising last year, it was over $4 billion. (Wow, those Lunesta butterflies are really expensive) A recent study shows that between 1997-2005, direct-to-consumer spending grew at twice the rate of research and development spending by the drug industry.