Do Drug Ads Help or Hurt?

Today it’s hard to get through an hour of TV without getting a pitch for the latest, greatest drug.

Vioxx® and Celebrex® are two of the best examples of this type of direct-to-consumer advertising. There’s no doubt that direct-to-consumer advertising works. People hear about it, ask about it, and often get it. In 1998, drug companies spent $1.3 billion advertising to the public. This year, the number is sure to pass $7 billion.

Supporters maintain that it’s good for public health by getting people to talk about problems they might not otherwise. But in a recent FDA survey, most doctors believed these ads make drugs seem better than they are, and that they don’t present risks in a balanced manner. What’s worse is doctors often feel pressured to prescribe what a patient wants, even if it’s not the doctor’s first choice.

In the case of Vioxx®, critics say the ads were part of the problem.

"Direct-to-consumer advertising ups the ante," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "More people bought the drug and had heart attacks, in the case of Vioxx®."

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