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Big Pharma's advertising adds to health care costs and endangers public health

Friday, December 11, 2009 by: Paul Louis, staff writer
Tags: drug advertising, drug costs, health news

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(Natural News) Prescription drug ads are banned in all industrialized nations except New Zealand and the USA. Yet most off those other nations have effective medical care programs while managing to keep costs from soaring. In 1997, the FDA opened the floodgates to prescription drug advertising in the USA. This was based on an earlier Supreme Court decision that said restricting such advertising was illegal.

Last summer, some U.S. Congress members were mounting campaigns to refute the Supreme Court's decision by restricting prescription drug advertising. In August of 2009, the New York Times selected a panel of eight highly qualified individuals for its "Editorial Room for Debate" section and posed the following two questions:

How much harm do prescription drug ads do to consumers? Are these ads a valuable way to educate people?

All but one panelist agreed that commercials and ads for prescription drugs were harmful and should be banned or at least restricted for a variety of reasons. The lone dissenter in the panel claimed that TV ads for prescription drugs educate and empower.

Disputing that premise, another panel member pointed out that people in countries banning prescription drug ads are better educated about health matters than Americans. Another panel member cited the deaths and heart problems from Vioxx created by Merck's aggressive advertising campaigns before Vioxx's safety could be determined.

The general consensus of the panel was that drug ads, especially TV commercials, tend to create a pill popping public rather than health conscious citizens. (Patients often demand advertised pharmaceuticals from their doctors!) Big Pharma's annual advertising budget is double the federal budget for the FDA.

So how does this advertising outlay from drug companies affect the market? The cost of advertising is included in drug pricing. But the drug makers insist that their high advertising budgets create more sales, thus enabling prices to drop.

A recent study seems to disprove that assertion. Michael Law headed up a group in The Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia and looked into the connection between advertising and product costs. The team studied advertising expenses and pharmaceutical sales data for Plavix or clopidogrel.

Plavix is often dispensed to senior citizens for heart conditions. Law's group focused on 27 Medicaid programs from 1999 through 2005. Their study, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that product costs went up, yet there was no increase in sales to help lower costs.

From this study, it's easy to conclude that pharmaceutical advertising expenses contribute to the soaring costs of health care while encouraging the public to pop pills for every symptom imaginable.

Sources for this article include:
NY Times - Should Prescription Drug Ads Be Reined In?

Consumer Ads Drive Up Health Costs
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