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Finegold Calls for Ban on Prescription Drug Advertising on Television


Location: Andover, MA

State Representative and candidate for Congress Barry Finegold called today for a ban on prescription drug advertising by pharmaceutical companies and pledged to file legislation to put doctors back in charge of what prescriptions are right for their patients.

"Drug advertising has skyrocketed," said Finegold. "Companies will spend almost five billion dollars this year and the average person will see over thirty hours of commercials. This is no way to reform the health care system. We ought to put that money into research and development, so that our drug companies lead the world in cures, not commercials."

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration loosened restrictions on drug companies, allowing them more flexibility in advertising drugs directly to consumers. As a result, drug companies increased their advertising expenditures from $1 billion in 1997 to $4.2 billion in 2005. Studies predict that number will exceed $4.5 billion in 2007.

The extra advertising has paid dividends for drug companies. Data show that if a patient requests a specific drug that he or she has seen advertised, the doctor will write that prescription more than 70 percent of the time. Additionally, between 1999 and 2000, prescriptions for the fifty most heavily advertised drugs rose six times faster than prescriptions for all others.

The most heavily advertised drugs are usually the most expensive, costing consumers millions of extra dollars a year. In addition, we saw the debilitating side effects of this trend when the painkiller Vioxx was pulled from the market after a clinical trial showed that it sharply increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

"We banned other types of TV advertising to protect the health of the American people, so there is a precedent for this," continued Finegold. "We have the best pharmaceutical companies in the world. In the long run, this ban will make the most affordable drugs - not the most advertised - dominate markets both at home and abroad. We need to stay ahead of the curve on biotechnology, it's too important to our health and our economy."
Fast Facts on Drug Advertising

• In 2006, drug manufacturers spent $4.5 billion on consumer drug advertising in, according to a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office for Congress ("Showdown looms over drug advertising", The New York Times, 1/22/07).

• Every $1 spent on pharmaceutical advertising often adds more than $2 in sales ("Drug safety bill would limit direct-to-consumer advertising", The Associated Press, April 17, 2007).

• A 2004 study found that American TV viewers watch an average of 30 hours of drug ads per year ("Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertisements on Network Television: An Exploration of Quantity, Frequency, and Placement", Journal of Health Communication, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 2004).

• The average number of prescriptions per person in the United States increased from 7.3 in 1992 to 10.4 in 2000 ("The great direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising con: How patients and doctors alike are easily influenced to demand dangerous drugs", NewsTarget, July 31, 2005)

• When a patient comes into a doctor's office and requests a specific drug that he has seen advertised in the media, the doctor writes the exact prescription the patient requested more than 70 percent of the time ("The great direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising con: How patients and doctors alike are easily influenced to demand dangerous drugs", NewsTarget, July 31, 2005).

• The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that permit direct to consumer advertising for prescription drugs ("Showdown looms over drug advertising", The New York Times, 1/22/07).

• A telephone survey conducted in March 2007 by Consumer Reports found that 59% of respondents "strongly agreed" that the FDA should ban advertisements for drugs that had safety problems ("Drug Risks and Free Speech — Can Congress Ban Consumer Drug Ads?" New England Journal of Medicine, 2/2/07).

• Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 296.4% from 1997 to 2005. During that same period, spending on promotion to physicians increased by 86.0% and spending on pharmaceutical research and development increased by 103.3%. (Government Accountability Office, report no. GAO-07-54, December 14, 2006).

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