April 24, 2013

Drug Ads Misleading for OTC Medications

Do you wonder why over the counter drug ads sound so appealing? You should, all the benefits are hyped, risks are downplayed, and most are completely absent, especially in short TV ads. Researchers have analyzed the ads for four drugs that have made the change from prescription to generic over the counter drugs (OTC). “The researchers looked at a sample of 133 television and print direct-to-consumer ads for Claritin (loratidine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xenical/Alli (orlistat) and Prilosec (omeprazole).”

Before going further, let’s be clear about the agencies overseeing drug ads. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of ads for prescription drugs and requires these ads to present a balance of both harms and benefits. Ads for the nonprescription drugs (OTC) are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has none of the requirements of the FDA. And now with an appeals court declaring that it is open season for free speech to promote “off label” use of prescription drugs, where are we headed for fairness in advertising?

It is becoming obvious that Congress needs to take corrective action to bring unregulated advertising under some regulation. As it is now, companies are getting away with less and less oversight in advertising and doctors are paying the price. Even I have heard some patients complaining about a doctor not being willing to prescribe a newly advertised drug. Yes, the complainers are hypochondriacs and think that what they hear is what they have and that the advertised drug is the answer to their problems.

Even I had a rather bad discussion recently when I asked a doctor about a different medication. This was not a newly advertised drug and is in a class of drugs I am already taking, but the doctor had apparently had a bad day and did not even pick up on this. He said I did not need any more medications – which I don't, but I was interested if the drug would be a better fit with the ones I was taking and would replace the one I was taking. When he realized this, he did say that he would look it up and see if there was a reason to change. About 9 days later, he called and said that at present he would not recommend a change. He did suggest that in a couple years when the current medication went generic, we should revisit to subject. He said the manufacturer did not have a good reputation with generics and we may need to switch to a name drug at that time.

When the researchers reviewed ads for the above four drugs that have gone from prescription to generic, they found only eleven percent of the ads mentioned side effects after the drugs became available without a prescription. This tells us that the drug manufacturers think sales are more important than safety. The study, which was published in the American Medical Association Journal, was supported by CVS Caremark.

Other articles can be found here, and here on the same topic,  This article here is about the "off label" advertising.

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