MOVE TO CURB DRUG ADVERTISING MAY BE EASING

New FDA Study Appears to Document Little Reason to Act

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The potential for congressional action aimed at curbing direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs appears to have lessened this past week.

Most notably, a key congressman has announced that he sees no reason to curb such advertising and the first Federal Drug Administration study of DTC drug advertising appears to have documented little reason for immediate regulatory action.

Little consumer demand
Released in Boston on Thursday, the FDA study found that DTC ad campaigns had increased the public's awareness of prescription drugs but had not sparked a consumer rush to demand specific drugs from their doctors. Only 5% of the consumers surveyed said they had visited a doctor because of a drug ad. Only 4% said they had gone to a physician in hopes of getting a perscription for a certain advertised drug.

The study also

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reported that 48% of the consumers surveyed said their doctors generally gave them the drugs they asked for as patients. That was down from 50% three years ago, the FDA said. The study involved nearly 1,000 consumers who had recently visited their doctors.

More than $2.5 billion was spent by pharmaceutical companies on direct-to-consumer advertising last year.

While a number of previously published reports about DTC drug advertising from private industry and policy groups arrived at different conclusions, the new report is the first to be done by the FDA itself.

No reason for restrictions
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he saw no reason to enact legislation that would curb pharmaceutical advertising aimed at consumers.

"Until we know there is a real problem," he said, "we ought to be very careful about interfering with the ability of companies to bring consumers information about aspects of their [medical difficulties]."

Rep. Tauzin's comments were delivered to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who has proposed making drug advertising a key consideration in Medicare drug benefit programs. His committee is looking into measures that would set lower Medicare reimbursement levels for drugs that are the subject of DTC advertising than for drugs that are not advertised that way.

Rep. Thomas' panel is expected to unveil a proposal for a prescription drug benefit next month.

Rep. Tauzin said he would have "a problem" with such Medicare reimbursement changes.

'Life-saving drugs'
"I have First Amendment concerns about limitations," he said. "Laws or restrictions on the right to advertise the availability of life-saving drugs should be looked at carefully. We ought to be very careful not to impede the ability of people to learn about drugs that could sustain their lives and prevent them from disease."

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