According to Nielsen Media Research, spending on direct-to-consumer drug ads reached $5 billion in 2008, with every American seeing up to 16 hours of these commercials on television each year. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine warns how direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising escalates the cost of prescription drugs.
The cost of prescription drugs to Medicaid and Medicare increased 15 percent every year from 1994 to 2004. Canadian researchers examined how much Plavix, a blood-thinning medication, cost Medicaid from 1999 to 2005. The research team found the number of Plavix pills dispensed for every 1,000 Medicaid recipients stayed constant from 1999 to 2005. However, Bristol Myers/Sanofi, which manufactures Plavix, increased the price of Plavix by $.40 per pill — costing Medicaid an additional $207 million from 2001 to 2005.
In 2001, Bristol Myers/Sanofi launched a consumer ad campaign for Plavix . Researchers found the coincidence between the ad campaign and the price increase “suspect”.
While Bristol Myers/Sanofi has been quoted as supporting direct-to-consumer advertising “as a way to encourage consumers to play a more active role in their healthcare,” these ads are not run as public-service announcements. The cost of advertising is passed onto consumers.
Studies have suggested that practitioners’ prescribing habits can be influenced by free samples of new medications, so it is no wonder that offers of free samples focus on the benefits while minimizing potential side effects. When consumers are warned about the risk of side effects, they are more likely to decline a new medication than their practitioner is to prescribe it.
With government presently bearing half the burden of healthcare costs, it is critical for the FDA to assess risks vs. benefits of drugs and prevent manufacturers from unduly swaying practitioners. Mt. Sinai medical school researchers publishing in the Nov. 23, 2009, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine urge “a broad model for monitoring drug safety that would consist of detailed publicly available data that independent researchers could freely analyze”. Why should researchers need to urge the FDA, tasked with ensuring drug safety, to create such a public database? Makes you wonder…
Craig Smith and Stuart Kellogg, Deputy Editors
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