ADVERTISED DRUGS SHOW BIG SALES GAINS

But Full Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Campaigns Unclear

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The 50 most heavily advertised drugs last year accounted for nearly half the increase in prescription ad spending, according to a new study from the National Institute for Health Care Management Research and Educational Foundation.

At the same time, the study said that as of yet, data isn't conclusive if direct-to-consumer advertising has been a detriment by causing patients to get innapropriate treatment or a benefit to those who wouldn't have sought treatment had they not seen the ads.

$132 billion in sales
The study reported that sales of drugs rose 18.8% to $132 billion last year, with 47.8% coming from increases in the sales of the 50 most heavily advertised drugs. Among the pharmaceutical companies with the largest ad spending was Merk & Co., whose $160 million in spending for Vioxx beat spending of Anheuser-Busch Cos.'s Budweiser and PepsiCo's Pepsi.

"We don't have the wherewithal to know whether direct to consumer advertising is a good or bad thing," said Steven Findlay, director of research, who stressed the need for further studies. "We are on the learning curve."

The group, which includes major Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers, said that while the study clearly documented that sales grew as ad spending increased, other questions, such as whether the ads induced consumers to press doctors for specific drugs, whether doctors were complying, whether the ads led to consumers getting more expensive drugs instead of cheaper ones and how much the increase could be attributed to direct-to-consumer was difficult to answer.

No 'clear-cut answers'
"Unfortunately available data and research do not permit clear-cut answers to these questions at this point," the study said.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America issued a statement criticizing the new report, saying that research shows drug prices and sales changes aren't directly related to direct-to-consumer advertising.

The latest study is at www.nihcm.org.

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