Should the United States allow the direct marketing of medications in print and on television?
Only the U.S. and New Zealand permit direct marketing of prescription drugs to
consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acquired jurisdiction over
DTCA of prescription drugs in 1962. [ For the next 35 years, television advertising
was limited by the requirement that ads summarize potential adverse reactions and
contraindications to drugs.
• In 1997, the FDA issued guidelines that
described how ads could make
“adequate provision” for the full disclosure of risks and benefits by referring
viewers elsewhere, to a toll-free telephone number, concurrent print ad, a web
site, or a physician. As a result, the pharmaceutical industry greatly increased
its spending on DTCA, and shifted the majority of its budget from print to
• Regulation of DTCA recognizes that prescription drugs differ from other
consumer products because of the drugs’ inherent risks. Nevertheless,
commercial speech is given significant protection under U.S. law, leading
legal scholars to conclude that an outright ban on DTCA would not likely
pass constitutional muster. The question remains about how to balance these
constitutional protections with the need to protect the public’s health.
• American television viewers see as many as 16 hours of prescription drug ads
per year, far exceeding the average time spent with a physician. Pharmaceutical
manufacturers concentrate DTCA spending on a few brand-name drugs,
mostly those used to treat chronic conditions with broad and enduring
potential markets—such as high cholesterol, insomnia, or reduced bone
density. In 2008, the class of drugs with the greatest DTCA spending was
treatments for erectile dysfunction. ]
There are no new answers.