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Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Advertising Up in U.S.

Research published from the August 16, 2007 publication of the New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM) notes that regardless of increasing criticisms direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medications continues to rise in the united states. The research begins with a bit of history and states, "Evidence shows that direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medications increases pharmaceutical sales and both helps to avert under-use of medicines and contributes to potential overuse."

The results of the study demonstrated that total spending on pharmaceutical promotion grew from $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005. In that time spending by drug companies on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 330%. The analysis noted that generally direct-to-consumer campaigns usually begin within a year following the approval of a product by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite this tremendous rise in spending, the study noted that, "the quantity of letters sent by the FDA to pharmaceutical manufacturers regarding violations of drug-advertising regulations fell from 142 in 1997 to merely 21 in 2006." The NEJM study seemed to be reported on by a number of news outlets, however, most weren't in the United States. One report in the US by HealthDay News on August 15, 2007 questions direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medications. Presently just the United States and New Zealand allow drug makers to market prescription drugs straight to consumers. Study author Julie M. Donohue, assistant professor of health policy and management in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, states, "Direct-to-consumer advertising expenses are increasing with regards to its share of total marketing budget, but it is still an inferior share compared to promotion aimed toward influencing prescribers." Donohue continued, "It's been ten years since the FDA clarified its policy regarding broadcast advertising and unleashed direct-to-consumer advertising on tv, which was new. We desired to see, in the wake of the Vioxx withdrawal and an increased focus on the safety of drugs and a focus on drug costs in light of the implementation of the new Medicare drug benefit, what industry and also the FDA were doing regarding advertising." An August 15, 2007 article in "The Canadian Press" about this study noted that such advertisements are presently not permitted in Canada but that there are legal challenges to permit this kind of advertising. The Canadian article noted that earlier this year a report published from the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommended that the US Food and Drug Administration, bar drug companies from advertising prescription medications within the first 2 years once they arrived at market. The reasoning is the fact that in that 2 year period a drug will begin to be broadly used and so rare side-effects not noticed in clinical trials may become evident. However, study author Donohue expresses skepticism that any change will require place in the conclusion of her study when she states, "Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising has continued to increase in recent years in spite of the criticisms leveled against it. Our findings suggest that calls for a moratorium on such advertising for new drugs would represent a dramatic departure from current practices."

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