Exposed: The Truth Behind Misleading Drug Commercials

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Drug commercials can be misleadingAs is too often the case lately, I found myself unable to sleep and up late watching T.V. I didn’t realize how many drug commercials there were out there promising everything from fixing osteoporosis to erectile dysfunction. It was disturbing to hear these claims followed by a list of terrifying side effects from stroke to blindness to paralysis.

Yet, what was really disturbing to me was that if a natural supplement made these same claims to prevent or cure a disorder or disease, they’d either face a lawsuit or jail time.

Currently, direct to consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is only legal in the U.S. and New Zealand. In the U.S., these ads are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that they are not false or misleading. However, that doesn’t seem to be happening in a lot of cases from the commercials I’ve been seeing lately.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that few television advertisements for prescription and over the counter (OTC) medications make blatantly false claims, but there are definitely a lot of misleading and questionable claims being made. And, according to a study published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, I’m not the only one who’s noticing.

Researchers Adrienne E. Faerber of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and David H. Kreling of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy found that potentially misleading claims seem to be unsettlingly customary throughout DTC prescription and non-prescription drug commercials on television, with more than half presenting viewers with ambiguous information.

They reviewed nearly 168 TV ads for drugs that aired between 2008 to 2010 during national news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN. Trained analysts were brought in to classify the ads’ claims and statements as truthful, potentially misleading, or false.

What they found was that false or unsupported claims were rare (only 10%) but that 60% of claims were potentially misleading. They left out important information, embellished information, provided opinions, or made pointless associations with regards to lifestyles. The problem was worse for OTC ads versus their prescription ad counterparts. This may be due to the fact that while the FDA oversees prescription drug ads, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for OTC drugs.

“The FTC is more reactive and the FDA is proactive,” said Faerber. “The FTC is also less specialized.” Faerber goes on to advise that it might help if the two organizations collaborated for the first few months after a drug is declassified to OTC.

Misleading claims are not illegal and may not be as harmful as false statements, but in my opinion, when it comes to prescription drugs, it does not pay to be an early adopter.

While your healthcare provider is probably the best source of information about the right medicines for you, you have to remember that your doctor does not know everything and is probably also being enticed by those same pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their drugs. With so many opinions and personal agendas out there, always be responsible to acquire the knowledge to make your own informed decision.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Plackett, B., “Study Finds Most Drug Commercials Misleading,” Scientific American web site;
Ferro, S., “Science Confirms The Obvious: Pharmaceutical Ads,” Popular Science web site;