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Warning: drug ads are harmful to your health

Friday, December 04, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: drug ads, Big Pharma, health news

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(NaturalNews) If you watch TV or ever flip through a glossy magazine, you are bound to have seen ads conjured up by Big Pharma working with slick advertising agencies. As it turns out, what they are selling isn't necessarily health -- or the truth. They are pushing pills, even if they have to twist the facts a bit about what their drugs do, who needs them and why. Now a new study just published in the American Journal of Public Health concludes this prescription drug direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) carries significant risks for the public.

Currently, some members of Congress, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), are calling for stricter FDA regulations of DTCA because the ads can lead to inappropriate prescribing. They also portray what may be a non-medical problem (such as over-active bladder, the latest "malady" discovered by Big Pharma) as a treatable medical illness requiring side-effect-laden medication.

For the new study, Dominick L. Frosch, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and colleagues reviewed the evidence pro and con for DTCA. Their conclusions? There could be some benefits to drug advertising, but they are limited. On the other hand, the researchers found the current way prescription drug ads are presented to the public carries significant risk and potential harm.

Ads intentionally misinform viewers

For example, the researchers noted that the majority of ads fail to provide enough information to inform consumers about whether they actually need an advertised drug. What's more, the highly dramatized, emotional presentation of a medication's supposed benefits can also be misleading. Meanwhile, any information about risks tends to be diluted by the use of imagery that contradicts facts about side effects and warnings.

"American television viewers see as many as 16 hours of prescription drug advertisements each year, and the reality is that these ads are not doing a good job of helping consumers make better decisions about their health," Dr. Frosch said in a statement to the media. "If the pharmaceutical industry isn't willing to change the ads to make them more useful to consumers, Congress should consider passing legislation that will regulate the ads to improve the information provided in order to help patients make more informed choices."

Several drug company ads have already been changed or pulled because they were so blatantly misleading. Take the now defunct ad campaign for the statin drug Lipitor which featured Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart, for example. Wearing a white coat, Jarvik looked straight into the camera and proclaimed: "I'm glad I take Lipitor, as a doctor and as a dad." Then, in the final shot, we saw how super fit, cardiovascular-wise, this middle-aged, statin taking man was as he powerfully rowed a boat across a lake. The problem? He's not licensed as a medical doctor. And that wasn't even him rowing -- it was a muscular body double.

Another statin fiasco: the ad campaign hyping the efficacy of Vytorin seemed to blame high cholesterol not just on diet but on quirky relatives (and all anyone had to do was take a pill to resolve the problem). The Vytorin commercials were finally pulled after research emerged that Vytorin failed to show any benefit over a cheaper drug.

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