Interview with Harriet Washington (Part III): Withholding Data from Journals and Flooding the Airwaves with Misleading Ads

Direct-to-Consumer Drug Ads: Banned Nearly Everywhere Yet Legal in the U.S.

Since the 1990s, the U.S. has allowed drug companies to advertise medications directly to the public. This is banned throughout Europe, as well as Canada and many other nations. Why does the U.S. have an outlier position on this?

Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medications is banned in every country except for the U.S. and New Zealand. Nobody else allows the corporations to do this, for obvious reasons. When you try to market a drug to physicians, the physicians may not be given all the information they need to evaluate the drug claims, but they do have a medical education and experience that helps them to evaluate the claims, to exercise some skepticism and to bring some rigor to deciding whether or not the drug is worthwhile.

That’s not true of everyday people. They don’t have the tools, by and large, to evaluate the claims. They don’t have the tools, by and large, to listen to the advertising message and spot the logical holes in the message. So that’s why hardly any countries allow their citizens to be duped in this manner.

I’ve watched these ads and I’ve written about them for journals. Many have frank falsehoods in them. I’m not talking about subtle deceptions or sly language; I’m talking about lies. When these become especially egregious, the FDA will write them a letter warning them to stop. The response of the companies is to keep going as long as they can because it’s worth it to them. A slap on the wrist from the FDA is nothing compared to the huge amounts of drugs they can sell to an unsuspecting public. These ads can be very deceptive and give limited information.

More after the jump.