Doctor Group Supports Ban on DTC Drug Ads

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By Chris Marr

Nov. 16 — The American Medical Association will begin advocating for a federal ban on television ads and other advertising of prescription drugs following a vote Nov. 16 by the group’s membership.

At the AMA’s 2015 Interim Meeting in Atlanta, a majority of the group’s delegates—a few hundred physicians from around the U.S.—approved a new policy to “support a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs and implantable medical devices.”

Supporters of such a ban cited concerns that ad spending by pharmaceutical companies drives up drug prices, confuses patients, encourages improper off-label (unapproved) use of prescription drugs and cuts into valuable patient-doctor time as patients ask about the drugs they’ve seen advertised.

“We all know the pros and cons” of direct-to-consumer drug ads, said Michael Miller, a delegate from the Wisconsin Medical Society, arguing that the only real purpose of the ads is to drive sales of particular drugs, rather than letting doctors decide which drugs are best to prescribe. “It drives demand and interferes with medical care. We want to spend our time diagnosing and treating patients, not rebutting marketing claims.”

Opponents Cite Patient Education

Opponents of the ban said drug advertising can help educate patients about conditions they might suffer from without knowing, and that efforts to promote vaccinations also could be hurt by a ban on advertising.

Stuart Gitlow, a physician representing the American Society of Addiction Medicine at the AMA meeting, said the earliest TV drug ads included those for antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil, which led to consumers recognizing their symptoms and seeking medical help for the first time.

“Those people sought and received treatment,” he said, adding that the ads led to increased sales volume and improved profits for the drug manufacturers. “The advertising dollars spent by those companies didn’t lead to them having to increase the cost of their product.”

Some delegates raised concerns leading up to the vote that an advertising ban would set a bad precedent of infringing on free speech rights.

Several delegates also raised concerns leading up to the vote that such a ban would set a bad precedent of infringing on free speech rights and that pharmaceutical companies could reciprocate by advocating a ban on ads by physicians and other health-care providers.

Details Could Come Later

The AMA delegates initially considered a two-part proposal to support a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising and to rescind the AMA’s existing policy. The existing policy advocated for strict regulation of drug advertising by the Food and Drug Administration, but stopped short of calling for an outright ban of direct-to-consumer ads.

Rather than rescind the existing policy, the delegates voted to defer that part of the proposal for further consideration, so that the policy could be revised in more detail later, potentially at the AMA’s 2016 annual meeting or at an earlier AMA Board of Trustees meeting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at cmarr@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Janey Cohen at jcohen@bna.com