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Prescription drug marketers, given the freedom to talk directly to consumers through advertising, have behaved like most marketers everywhere. They've spent heavily to get the word out about new products of interest to large, targeted groups where the biggest sales potential exists: allergy sufferers, people trying to manage depression or high cholesterol and those trying to prevent or control ulcers. And they have succeeded, as a report from the National Institute for Health Care Management points out. Ironically, pharmaceutical marketers and the ad business now must be prepared to defend this very success.

The institute has set the table for another round of debate over the cost of marketing in the sale of pharmaceuticals. Its report said consumers spent an estimated $93.4 billion on Rx products in 1998 compared to $50.6 billion in 1993, and it singled out the $9.3 billion spent last year on the 10 drugs most heavily advertised directly to consumers.

If a new product offers new benefits to consumers, and those benefits are communicated effectively via advertising, higher sales should be expected. Assuming allergy sufferers find Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra-three of the biggest DTC-advertised drugs-deliver on their claims, more consumer awareness leads to satisfied users and more prescription refills.

The institute points out that the average price per prescription for new drugs, those introduced in 1992 or later, was $71.49 in 1998 compared to $30.47 for drugs on the market prior to 1992. So it has invited policymakers to examine "the positive and negative effects of DTC advertising, physician detailing and other promotional efforts."

There will be plenty of critics should this examination occur. That makes it critical those in the marketing community are ready to make the case that consumers benefit when government-approved fair and honest advertising provides news about products to make their lives genuinely better. Restricting that

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