Congress studies DTC rise

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Congress' first look at the effect of rapid direct-to-consumer drug ad growth resulted in statements of concern, but no immediate action other than a call for further study.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing to examine prescription-drug cost issues, including advertising, instead devoted most of its attention to topics such as the availability of generics and matters relating to drug patents.

Several congressmen said the growth of DTC advertising from virtually nothing to $2 billion annually in four years warranted scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration. "I am alarmed at the incredible amount of money being spent on direct-to-consumer advertising, as well as [the fact] that drug companies are responsible [for outlining health] risks in their ads with little oversight from the FDA," said U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

CONSUMERS `BOMBARDED'

Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said 23 drugs that have been responsible for much of the increase in drug costs in the past year have also been supported by heavy advertising. "Consumers are bombarded with advertisements for these medications ... every time they open a magazine or turn on the television or search the Internet," he said. Rep. Green suggested that spending on marketing is rivaling that of research-a statistic disputed by the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America. A Pharma representative said later it saw no need to change current rules for DTC advertising.

In testimony at the hearing, John Golenski, executive director of RX Health Value, a coalition of consumer groups, urged creation of a task force to study the effects of DTC ads, and urged that marketers be required to provide more information about risks in ads.

The Senate Commerce Committee is due to hold a hearing on direct-to-consumer advertising issues late this month or early next.

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