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blogspectives June 16, 2008

Ed Silverman in Pharmalot (June 11) comments on the FDA’s report that the biggest reporter of adverse events is now the consumer, not the doctor. In 2007, consumers reported 174,000 events versus only 121,000 from doctors. My take is that part of the reason consumers report more adverse events is familiarity with the side effects partially from DTC awareness. Anyone taking a prescription drug is much more likely to hear about side effects from the ads rather than their doctor. DTC print ads also have a phone number to report side effects, also helping the increased reporting by consumers. Of course no one knows yet whether the increased reporting really adds to public safety, as consumer generated adverse events may not be reliable or drug related.

GoozNews (June 11) also has a take on consumer reported adverse events. Goozner says “what these data clearly show is just how important consumer awareness is in generating those reports.” He wants awareness increased further by adding the adverse event reporting phone number to all packages and all DTC ads, including television. I have been against adding the adverse event reporting number to television ads. Consumers have vivid imaginations and are subject to the power of suggestion. The level of imagined side effects will soar and FDA will gain little knowledge chasing down the increased reporting. At least in print ads, having the phone number is part of an ad where consumers can read the brief summary in detail to understand what may be a side effect.

Mike Huckman in his CNBC blog (June 2) seemed surprised to see a DTC ad running at a movie theater. The ad was for Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV. “Yep, not even in the movie theater can you escape pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising.” The ads are aimed at young female movie goers 19-26, says Merck. Huckman’s consumer poll shows no issue with respondents who were asked if the Gardasil ads in movie theaters were appropriate, with 87% saying it was. The movie Huckman was attending was “Sex and the City,” so I doubt the ad was too racy for that audience. The Prescription Access Litigation Project blog (June 3) takes a shot at drug companies producing profitable me-too drugs while neglecting diseases such as malaria. “This is the system that has brought us more than 8 prescription drugs for heartburn, and more than 4 for erectile dysfunction, but no new meaningful treatments for diseases that are the true scourges of humanity, like malaria and tuberculosis.” They go on to say that while drug companies do little for poor country epidemic diseases, they use television ads “to convince us all we have restless leg syndrome, insomnia and toenail fungus.” While I agree that this is an issue, I do not see private companies as the problem in not curing diseases in poor countries. Their job is to make money for shareholders, as crass as that sounds. Eradicating malaria and other diseases rampant in third world countries is something that must be solved, but blaming private companies is n ot the answer. javascript hit counterDr. Jim Sabin, writing in Health Care Organizational Ethics blogspot, May 17, says DTC ads are on balance “more bad than good.” He says drug and device companies should pay a 10-20% surcharge to fund an ad program to counter claims made in those ads. Dr. Sabin says, “Free speech is an important value. But so are public health and not bankrupting Medicare!” I wonder what the Supreme Court would say about that rationale. We should not restrict speech to limit drug demand. Otherwise we could use that logic to prohibit commercial speech that encourages potentially h armful or wasteful behaviors like drinking, buying gas-guzzling Hummers, playing the lottery, etc. That is a very slippery slope. You think Canada does not care about U.S. DTC ads? In fact a Canadian media company sees lack of DTC ads as a competitive disadvantage. Pharmalot’s Ed Silverman tells us in a June 4 blog that CanWest, owner of magazines, newspapers and television stations, is suing the Canadian government for not allowing DTC. They say they are competing with U.S. publications sold in Canada that have DTC ads and they are losing that revenue source. It is a tricky question for Canada . They have a goal of cost control and do not want their consumers demanding expensive branded medications advertised by drug companies. Of course given media spill into Canada and free use of the Internet, Canadians know about our branded medicines, so pretending they do not by having a ban just seems silly. It is their country, but I wish CanWe st luck in their suit. Barbara Mintzes, writing a blog on CanWest’s suit for Common Ground (June 2008), says the fact that there is illegal media spill is an enforcement problem rather than a bad policy. She argues against use of DTC in Canada and urges Canadian authorities to enforce regulations that prohibit drug ads. She says U.S. magazines should not be sold and U.S. television DTC ads can be edited and replaced by ads for non-DTC products. She says ads for drugs are dangerous because they use emotional techniques designed to “create a connection and desire for the drug.” I would argue that Canadians are pretty smart folks who can resist the DTC ads where they find no rational value. In my attempt to dig deep for relevant blogs, I bring you Josh Wildstein who blogs on Internet stocks on Seeking Alpha. His June 1 column was called, Failure to Deliver Meaningful ROI Online for Pharma? In it, Wildstein is skeptical that the online industry will succeed in getting more pharma ad dollars. He says “the ROI being delivered against most online health content is performing poorly, especially for Pharma.” He says most online conten
t is similar and therefore consumers are not seeing unique information on most portals. His solution is that the Internet winners will be those offering innovative products that more deeply engage consumers. Under the category of shooting oneself in the foot, Novartis CEO Dan Vasella made some unfavorable comments on use of DTC. In the Wall Street Journal’s online column by Jacob Goldstein (June 4), Dr. Vasella said DTC ads may have contributed to recent Congressional ire. He said many DTC ads do not seem to show serious implications for use of drugs, instead showing “people happy and healthy and hugging each other, and it’s the sun and flowers.” Hmm, sounds like Dr. Vasella may be a witness for the next Dingell/Stupak hearing. I think he may have been right a few years ago but DTC ads now are much more sober and serious. Post a Comment

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