What do you think are the pros and cons of direct to consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals?
If you worked at FDA, would you approve this, knowing what you know now?
Direct-to-Consumer Advertising, DTCA, marketing has been an ethical and legal topic of debate with the change of time and the change of advertisement or marketing of products. As the pharmaceutical industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry so has the marketing cost of pharmaceuticals as each manufacturer of a potential new approved drug is eager to get their products to consumers, who are the patients. As drug products get approved and gain popularity based on their efficacy, prescriptions are written out and as the drug popularity increases, the cost of the drug rises.
In contrast, DTCA does encourage patients suffering from a terminal illness to seek more information from their physician about a potential drug trial associated with the potential new drug based on the information obtained from the advertisement. This has helped many patients to take control of their illness and seek more information that they would have otherwise not known about.
Furthermore, while DTCA could promote overutilization of drug use as it encourages consumers to seek more information about a potential drug via digital advertising, it may not inform the consumers about all the potential risks associated with the drug since the pharmaceutical industry would be paying for the advertising. Currently, platforms such as T.V ads, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and YouTube have constant 15-second to 30-second-long advertisements regarding the drugs being promoted. It may mention a few side effects of the drug, but it does not state all the potential dangers. According to Anonymous, 2015, FDA regulations that oversee the advertising of prescription drug products, ensure that the safety information about the drug product is communicated to consumers and continues to ensure market surveillance for additional adverse events reported related to the drug product. FDA does not control the price set for the drugs sold but it ensures that the safety information composed of side effects data, is provided to consumers regarding the drugs advertised. Based on this information, if I worked for FDA, I would not support the DTCA on the basis that the potential side effects data should be clearly provided to consumers before the patients choose to be prescribed a certain drug. However, I think although it is good that FDA should have overall control of the way prescription drugs are advertised, it is important that patients should be able to learn more information about the drug product via DTCA if they choose to learn more about the clinical trials or relevant information concerning the drug.
Anonymous., 2015., The impact of direct-to-consumer advertising., U.S. Food and Drug Administration., October 23., Cited:
The Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising | FDALinks to an external site.
Lyles, A., 2001., Direct marketing of pharmaceuticals to consumers., National Library of Medicine: PubMed., Oct 23:73-91., Cited:
Direct marketing of pharmaceuticals to consumers - PubMed (nih.gov)
Seeing advertisements for medications while watching television, scrolling on the internet, or reading a magazine is a common experience for many Americans. This marketing tool is called direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA) and it is a common tactic used by pharmaceutical companies to market their products directly to the public (Ventola, 2011). There are many pros associated with DTCPA. Overall, studies show that DTCPA can have a positive impact on consumers because the ads motivate them to seek medical attention for their ailments, they encourage patients to take their prescriptions, and the income companies make from the ads can be reinvested into developing new medications (Joseph et al., 2008). Additionally, DTCPA may help educate low-income patients and encourage them to see a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms that a drug might treat (Joseph et al., 2008).
While it can be appealing to only focus on the positives, it is important to also discuss the cons of DTCPA. Unfortunately, DTCPA can have a negative impact on patients. These ads are quite costly, and companies often increase drug prices to cover their advertising expenses, passing along the cost to patients (Joseph et al., 2008). Also, since these ads are created by pharmaceutical companies, some may worry that DTCPA is biased and could lead to misinformation because companies care more about making a profit than helping patients with their health issues (Joseph et al., 2008; Ventola, 2011). Lastly, these ads prey upon low-income populations, encouraging them to request brand name drugs instead of lower priced generic options, despite these individuals not having the means to pay for these high-priced drugs (Joseph et al., 2008).
It is difficult for me to decide if I think the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should continue to allow DTCPA since there are so many pros and cons associated with these marketing tactics. Interestingly, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that allow DTCPA, demonstrating that this country is in the minority (Ventola, 2011). This fact alone makes me question the use of DTCPA since most countries do not allow this type of drug marketing. While the FDA regulates these ads to ensure marketing materials provide transparency about a medication’s risks, are those regulations enough to protect consumers, especially vulnerable low-income consumers? Additionally, the FDA does not have the resources available to police DTCPA adequately, allowing pharmaceutical companies to break the rules without repercussions (Ventola, 2011). Due to the limited oversight of DTCPA by the FDA and the potential for companies to take advantage of vulnerable populations with these marketing tactics, I think the United States should join other countries around the world and ban DTCPA.
Joseph, M., Spake, D. F., & Finney, Z. (2008). Consumer attitudes toward pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising: An empirical study and the role of income. International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, 2(2), 117–133.
https://doi.org/10.1108/17506120810887916Links to an external site.
Ventola, C. L. (2011). Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising Therapeutic or Toxic? P&T (Lawrenceville, N.J.), 36(10), 669–684.
Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA) is so ubiquitous at this point in the United States that identifying pros and cons can be challenging. Although FDA rules were relaxed in 1997 to allow for direct to consumer ads (Ventola, 2011), it feels as though I have been seeing these ads my entire life. Surprisingly to me, this is not the world norm. The United States and New Zealand are the only countries to currently allow this type of pharmaceutical advertising (Ventola, 2011).
What seems to be the biggest con for DTCPA is the truthfulness of the ads. The general goal of advertising is to create or increase the demand for a product. If your job is to create that demand, the inclination to stretch the truth will be there. When the product is, for example a broom, stretching the truth likely won’t result in much harm. If you are giving inaccurate statistics or efficacy data about a pharmaceutical, there is potential for real damage.
I do believe also the DTCPA can lead to issues where perhaps there are none. For example, everyone is somewhat susceptible to advertising. I have to believe that an advertising campaign that suggests you may have some type of ailment can lead to people believing that they do. In those instances, a patient could become convinced they have the ailment, work with their doctor to get the prescription, and be exposed to an unnecessary risk of side-effects and adverse events.
The pros of DTCPA are more challenging to discern from a patient perspective. The Department of Health and Human Services encourages individuals to take an active role in their healthcare (Premier Health, n.d.). Taking an active role in your healthcare means doing some research, having conversations with your doctor, and advocating for yourself. I’m sure there are instances of an individual trying several medications with no luck, reading an ad, discussing with their doctor, and having that medication work out great for them. Particularly with access to information on the internet, people are capable of doing their own research and advocating for what they put in their bodies.
If I worked at the FDA, I would not approve direct-to-consumer marketing. As I point out above, advocating for yourself is not a bad thing. Indeed, many people should take a more active role in their healthcare. However, people can still research and advocate for themselves without media designed to convince you that you need the medication. A physician is also an advocate for their patient. Physicians have the schooling, the background, the history to be able to navigate through some of these things than the average person. I feel as though the cons of DTCPA outweigh the somewhat flimsy pros.References
Premier Health. (n.d.). What does it mean for a patient to take an active role in their health care? https://www.premierhealth.com/faq/what-does-it-mean-for-a-patient-to-take-an-active-role-in-their-health-care-#:~:text=As%20a%20patient%2C%20it%20is,and%20Human%20Services%20(HHS).
Ventola, C.L., (2011). Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management.36(10) 669-684.