Until very recently, prescription drugs were not marketed directly to the public. However, companies now market both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs directly to the consumer. The public has even been besieged by direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals. “Miracle drug” and “wonder drug” are just two of the terms coined by advertisers hired by drug manufacturers to create hype that sells prescriptions.
As a result of these developments, abuses were bound to occur. Some patients even began demanding that doctors prescribe pills because the ads said so!
Many critics of pharmaceutical advertising contend that America is an overmedicated society and that lawmakers need to regulate all healthcare ads in whatever form they reach consumers.
In the meantime, healthcare advertising continues to make promises. Healthcare advertisements are often designed to persuade rather than educate. They rarely provide information about the success rates of the treatments they tout or alternative treatments. They are also often ambiguous and suggest dramatic improvements in quality of life. Television commercials for prescription drugs spend considerably more air time describing benefits than they do explaining potential hazards. These advertisements mislead people with, if not false, half-baked information.
A little regulatory resourcefulness on the part of lawmakers could harness the enormous power of healthcare advertisements in a manner that aims to improve public health. U.S. policymakers need not ban healthcare advertisements, but they should rein them in. Systematic surveillance and control would help prevent the marketing of another Vioxx and prevent misleading associations between marketing gimmicks and science.