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Advertising Ethics

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The age of advertising today is not what it used to be years ago. Pharmaceutical companies are spending on average billions of dollars to market their drugs directly to the consumers. With this comes a potential harm to some consumers due to the fact that they feel like they are free to ask for anything that may stop the symptoms they have. Should the FDA take a stand in putting a stop to how certain drugs are marketed, or just continue to let it get out of control? Who should be able to control the prescriptions: the patient or the doctor?

Take the drug Prozac for our first example: it's in rock lyrics, magazines, books and billboards. I don't think there are too many people who have not heard of it or that in some point of their lives were not on it. Many parents are turning to their children's doctor to put them on it because of problems they may be having at home.

In an article from The Economist I found that it is illegal in Europe to advertise prescription drugs. They are allowed to market they're over the counter drugs but an advertisement for a prescription drug can only be found in

medical journals. It was felt that advertising prescriptions filled the heads of consumers and it could undermine the doctor's authority.

Lilly Pharmaceutical company did a two page spread on Prozac that had one page with a dark rainy sky with the words "Depression Hurts" and on the other side was a bright sunny sky with the words "Prozac can help".(Vol.344) Prozac may be good for some people but for others it may not be the drug they need, and because of ads like that they feel the need to pressure their physician for a prescription for it. Can it really help put sunny days back into a miserable life?

America has allowed direct to consumer advertising for over a decade now but to date there have been no claims that anyone has been hurt by it. In television ads the companies are prepared to pay the cost that it takes to tell the consumer to talk to their doctor if they have any of the symptoms listed and they must also give a brief run down on some of the possible side effects.

Most drug manufacturers tend to argue that raising awareness of certain diseases helps to achieve an overall improvement in public health. "Lilly cites a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggesting that

only one depressed person in ten receives adequate treatment, and that a third of people with a serious depressive disorder seek no therapy at all. Prozac commercials let these people know that a (fairly) effective treatment exists, and also reduce the stigma attached to seeking help for mental troubles".(Vol.344)

Since the European government pays for most prescription drugs they oppose the direct to consumer advertising for the fear it will cause an increase in drug pricing. Of course the companies that market whiskey and cigarettes are free to go on but the advertising for a heart pill cannot.

So, do doctors want direct to consumer ads bring them more patients? That is the topic in the November 1999 publication of The Medical Post. The story began of a patient who saw an advertisement on television about a drug for obesity. The ad went as far as listing the dangerous side effects of the drug such as heart disease or stroke but all the consumer could think about was getting off a few extra pounds.

As a result of this ad, the doctor had to spend an extra ten minutes with the patient to tell her why it was unsafe for her to take the drug. The same conversation has

been shared with many more patients causing delays in the waiting room and having an unhappy patient. This can lead to the patient seeking another doctor in hope of getting a prescription for the drug.

The Post stated that: "Still illegal in Canada, DTCA (Direct-To-Consumer Advertising) prescription drug advertising may be a reality in the future".(Vol.35) Health Canada conducted a study that had doctors, pharmacists, and others to look at the impact of DTCA. Consumers in Canada are exposed to the use of advertising in the U.S. due to the closeness of the countries.

"Champions of DTCA say that if it is regulated and controlled, that DTCA could improve the doctor-patient relationship and lead to better drug use".(Vol.35) But on the opposition side they argue that ads are there to increase demand and that DTCA may not be the right way to educate people. The DTCA also has allies, which are the industry itself, advertisers and patient advocacy groups.

Another side to the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs is how it's done to the



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