Advertising or Education? - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

1/28/03

Advertising or Education?

Drug manufacturers spend $2.5 billion dollars on advertising.  We have all seen the ads on TV touting drugs and urging the viewers to ask their doctors about this particular medicine. In a recent survey by the Food and Drug Administration, 57% of physicians asked felt that ads may prompt patients to ask for unnecessary prescriptions and 65% felt these ads confused patients about the risks and benefits of that particular drug.

A study published in the medical journal, Lancet, found that 44% of the ads aimed at physicians made claims that are not backed by research in the area. The most common claim promoted the drug for an "off label" use. This occurs when the drug is recommended for a use not supported in the literature and for which it is not approved.  Reports from the General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress, reported that several companies had continued to circulate misleading ads even after they had been cited for violations.

The Bush administration is trying to restrict gifts and payments for promoting their drugs to doctors and insurance companies. Drug manufacturers make payments to them for switching patients to a particular drug. The companies are also the major source of money for professional education programs.

Some in Congress and at some leading universities are questioning the custom of oncologists (cancer doctors) of selling chemotherapy drugs directly to the patient. Instead of giving you a prescription, they buy the drugs and administer them in their offices. Critics suggest that this could lead to a conflict of interest and possible harm to the patient.

A drug company named in a Minnesota lawsuit was accused of influencing doctors to use their drugs by persuading them that they could make more money using their brands. There was no mention of the risk or benefit to the patient.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that we, as consumers, have to be careful. We are grateful for those medicines that give us back our health, but we have to keep a few rules in mind in regards to drugs:

  1. Just because it is new or advertised on TV, it is not better for you.
  2. Generic drugs are just fine. We don't need brand names if an equivalent drug is available.
  3. Keep trac of what you are taking and let your doctor know, including any herbal or over-the-counter medicines.
  4. Always ask why you are taking a specific drug, what benefits can you expect, and what are its side effects.
  5. While some drugs may be needed to keep you healthy, there are no miracles out there in pill form.
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