db gets published!!


Category : General, Medical Rants, Pharma

I suspect that most bloggers would like to have an editorial published. Two weeks ago I received a phone call from USA today inviting me to write an opposing viewpoint. Since the topic was DTC drug advertising, I jumped at the chance. Today my thoughts appear in print!

Here is their argument in favor of DTC
Restricting drug ads not a good prescription

Here is my argument against
Take drug ads off the air

I did not really understand the challenges of a 350 word limit. I probably would have written 1000 words if given my druthers. I recalled the famous quote – “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
— Mark Twain

Regular readers know my thoughts on this issue. I hope my short op-ed does a good job of capturing the essence of my objections.

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Comments (10)

Congratulations! Not surprisingly I have a slightly different take on the situation, but we really are not that far apart on the issue. For your readers who don’t know us, let me assure them that that’s quite amazing.

You inspired a posting on my blog — http://funnybusiness.typepad.com/funnybusiness

Your sister,

That’s great! Congrats!

[…] photos single-payer DB’s Op-Ed Monday Jun 13 2005 Links Medblogger Robert Centor got an Op-Ed published in USA Today. Congrats! […]

Some people claim a ban on prescription drug advertizing would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Here’s an easy solution: Congress should amend the patent laws to only provide patent protection to drugs that are not advertized. Pharmacutical companies will then have a choice: either accept the benefits of patent protection, or attempt to gain the benefits of brand recognition–but not both.

To say that a private company does not have the right to promote or advertise its product because it might increase demand, is ridiculous.

When these companies are fortunate enough to get a product to market, they have a limited amount of time to try to earn revenue from their research efforts. When that time is up and generic competition comes in, the product will be virtually free.

Unlike a government funded institution, like the University of Alabama, a private company needs to produce something of value to “earn” revenue so that it might continue to exist. I would rather pay private companies a little more than pay higher takes to support Government research organizatons who simply “take” what they want from taxpapers regardless of whether they have done or ever will do anything to earn it.

Some people claim a ban on prescription drug advertizing would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Here’s an easy solution: Congress should amend the patent laws to only provide patent protection to drugs that are not advertized. Pharmacutical companies will then have a choice: either accept the benefits of patent protection, or attempt to gain the benefits of brand recognition–but not both.

“Here’s an easy solution: Congress should amend the patent laws to only provide patent protection to drugs that are not advertized.”

In the off chance that the law you suggest won’t pass a constitutional test I suggest the following. Require drug manufacturers to sell every medication in identical form, shape, size and color, and further require that these medications be sold at the same price, and with no labeling whatsoever. This entirely removes the possibility of “advertising” either directly to the consumer or to the doctor, and would be equally fair to everyone.

There, that oughtta do it.

I understand your viewpoint and respect your opinion and in some situations patients may get a prescription when they do not need one. However, it was the FDA that has told pharmaceutical companies that they would like to see more DTC advertising because it gets patients to talk more openly with their physicians about their problems. We live in a free market society and caveat emptor “buyer beware.” The physician is the gatekeeper and it is up to your societies like the AMA, AAFP etc. to police yourselves and not give into patient pressure if you do not want to prescribe a medication.

Nobody is holding a gun to the doctor or patient’s head telling them they have to buy the product. Many products are advertised on TV that make rediculous claims but do not have to add fair balance like pharmaceutical company ads. Infomericals abound where products are peddled but with little or no policing. We have the FDA, DDMAC, advocate groups, medical societies, consumers, and the physicians. There are plenty of safeguards in place that allow for drug ads to stay on TV. There is no need for removal. The get patients into a doctors office and this physicians should love.

You also make the argument that since tobacco was taken off the air so should drug ads. The premise of your argument is that tobacco is bad for you, causes an addiction, causes cancer, can influence young children to start even worse drugs, and causes an unnecessary burden on the healthcare industry. This I agree with completely and tobacco should not be advertised for those reasons. However, the analogy cannot be used for FDA approved medications. Unlike tobacco, these medications have been proven through years of rigorous testing to be safe and effective for their intended uses. There is a health benefit and with any medication some risk. There is no health benefit to smoking. You lost big points with me on this flawed logic.

You mention that drug advertising results in more costly prescriptions. Drug advertising is but a small percentage of the total expense to bring a product to the market and just like any oter product sold to the market it must be advertised if it is to reach it’s targeted market. The problem exisits when patients and phsycians use these medications for purposes that were not intended. This can cause dangerous side effects and inflate healthcare costs.

You also mention that Vioxx should only been written when a generic drug caused gastirc side effects. I would guess you would also think the same for Bextra. I pay for my own managed care and I am quite educated on the newest advances in medicine. Since I am the end user, I understand the risk, and I end up paying the bill I wanted Bextra when I had a back injury. You failed to mention the quality of life increase of the products when i needed only one Bextra to help me control my back pain and tylenol, ibuprofin, and naproxin couldn’t touch my pain. I pay for quality healthcare and I want it. If I got hurt from Bextra then it would have been my fault but I knew the risks.

Why doesn’t anyone tell the real truth about academic institutions that typically won’t use a new branded product because they haven’t been paid off to do studies? What would really lower the cost of medicines is if all the doctors in acadmia stopped taking so many bribes from pharma, do a bogus evaluation and call it study.

Docto’sshould embrace DTC advetsing giving them the opportunity to open dialogue about a potneital serious problem. Your societies should coach physicians on how to work with patients to express their issues after requesting a product seen on TV rather then fight their existence altogether. Physcians could ask questions like, What most intrigued you about the AD? Why? How long have you had these problems? Why did the AD make you think of it? Any family history of this problem? etc.

I will conclude with one more topic. Instead of totally figting to remove drugs ads from TV why not work with manufacturers, government, patient groups, physician groups, and consumers on how to make these ads, and doctor’s responses to them, better.

Dallas, TX

First, congratulations on the invited commentary. I would be curious if you get any fanmail or ?hatemail? from the readers of USA Today–please share them with us!

I share your objection to these advertisements. Doctors, patients and the public all pay a price for the advertising campaigns. It is not just that we must pay extra for the medications we purchase from those companies to subsidize their advertising costs. Beyond that, the cost of our health insurance necesarily must rise to cover the utilization of costly meds by other members of the same plans (so many of which are not truly necessary). We also share in the costs of the complications experienced by patients who have side effects of medications whose benefits were never entirely clear. Vioxx is a superb example.

If stringent (and most likely laborious) regulation could be enforced to keep the adverts tamely informative and not bizarrely promotional, I would consider supporting such a policy. For those people sympathetic to the drug companies’ need to satisfy their stockholders with better profits, I think the true profit implications of restricting advertisements by ALL competing pharmaceutical companies are not so clear. But it is certainly the case that if 3 companies advertise and the 4th does not, the 4th is at a terrible economic disadvantage.


There are theoretical reasons why drug ads could be OK if not good, but the actual practice of what is said and how it’s said shows why they are too self-serving and have very little to do with caring about people.

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