TV Drug Ads Likely To Stay

January 6, 2003
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LANSING — It's hard to escape all the television commercials that urge viewers to “ask your doctor” about a new prescription drug.

Many doctors comply with the resulting demands from patients, but whether that is always good for them, or just for the drug makers’ pocketbooks, isn’t a certain diagnosis.

State officials, however, think that no change in the drug advertisement regulation is on the horizon.

Proponents of the direct-to-consumer advertising argue that such advertising leads to better-informed consumers and improved quality of care.

“A well-informed patient is more apt to obtain proper treatment,” said William O’Donnell, the director of external communication for Schering-Plough, the producer of the heavily advertised allergy drug Claritin.

That kind of advertising prompts an informed discussion between a doctor and a patient, O’Donnell said. “It stimulates a conversation.” As a result the physician-patient relationship improves with the direct-to-consumer advertisement, he added.

“Prescribing drugs lies with a physician,” O’Donnell said.

However, opponents of the drug advertisements directed at consumers say that the advertisements encourage the use of expensive and sometimes unnecessary medications. That, the opponents argue, leads to excessive profits for the drug companies.

The spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 212 percent from 1996 to 2000, according to information published in the New England Journal of Medicine. A survey published in the journal found that 71 percent of family physicians believe that the prescription drug advertisements pressure physicians into prescribing drugs they wouldn’t normally prescribe.

Dr. Michael Ziter disagreed with the majority of his colleagues. The family physician at the Leelanau Memorial Health Center in Northport said patients have a right to be informed.

“I may be the minority among the physicians,” Ziter said. If a patient is willing to discuss the risks and the benefits of a particular drug, he has no problems with the ads, he said.

“The patients need to be careful and ask questions,” he said.

Although some opponents of the direct-to-consumer drug advertisements agree that the public needs to be informed about drugs, they doubt if a pharmaceutical company can provide the essential information to consumers.

“(Advertising) creates an idea that the consumers can pick their own medicine,” said Mike Crawford, a pharmacist at First Choice in Greenville. “Call the doctor and demand the drug.”

Drug advertising is under the scrutiny of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA officials evaluate ads for accuracy and balance. Every television advertisement must include the message that viewers should ask their physician or a pharmacist about the product.

“It all comes down to the doctor-patient relationship,” said Terry Zawora, a pharmacist at the Prescription Shop in Newport.

But don’t look for anything to change in the near future, said James K. Haveman Jr., director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, because pharmaceutical groups are among the most powerful lobbies in the country.           

Recent Articles by Aleks Tapinsh / Capital News Service

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