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Why People Are Seeing More Ads for Drugs on TV

Have you noticed that you have been seeing more ads for prescription drugs on television during commercial breaks or while watching streaming services with commercials, such as Hulu? According to a recent article in The New York Times, it is not your imagination suggesting that you are seeing more advertisements for prescriptions medications. To be sure, the number of ads on your TV has increased by about 65 percent between 2012 and 2016. Why are people seeing more ads for drugs on television? In short, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits pharmaceutical companies to advertise on television, and these companies see TV ads as a way to target viewers—largely older Americans—who need more extensive medical care and treatment for potentially life-threatening conditions.

Yet prescription drug advertising is not without its risks. What are the requirements for pharmaceutical companies to advertise on TV programs? And what are some of the potential harms to consumers?

FDA Rules for Broadcast Product Claim Ads

What rules does the FDA require drug companies to follow when advertising products on television? The FDA has specific broadcast product claim ad requirements, which apply to any advertisement on TV, radio, or telephone. The FDA requires that these ads include the following:

  • Most important risks of the drug presented in an audio (i.e., spoken) format; and
  • “Adequate provision requirement,” meaning either information about all of the risks contained within the prescribing information for the drug or a “variety of sources” through which viewers can obtain prescribing information about the prescription drug.

To clarify, pharmaceutical companies are not required by the FDA to provide consumers with all of the risks associated with a drug in an advertisement broadcast on television or through a streaming service, but they are required to provide specific information to viewers about where to find all of the prescribing information they might need about the drug. Examples of sources that could be included in an ad that would give viewers information about obtaining the prescribing information for a drug might include a doctor, a toll-free telephone number, a magazine or journal with print information about the drug, and/or a website address.

Ad Give Too Much Information to Be Meaningful

The aim of all of these drug ads is to get consumers to buy the products, and more specifically, to request them from their healthcare providers. But in giving a laundry list of side effects associated with any given prescription drug—which can range from temporary and non-life-threatening side effects to death—consumers may actually be more likely to believe that the drug is effective in treating the condition for which it is designed. According to the chief executive officer of a healthcare advertising agency, “it’s counterintuitive, but everything in our research suggests that hearing about the risks increases consumers’ belief in the advertising.”

And while consumers are believing that the drug is credible, they may be ignoring many of those side effects that could produce serious harm. When so much information is compressed into a short drug commercial, it is unlikely that most consumers take it all in and adequately assess the benefits and risks of any particular drug.

In response to this research, which largely affects seniors who suffer from the serious health conditions that many of these drugs are designed to treat, the FDA is considering a change to its broadcast advertising rules according to a report from U.S. News & World Report. Developing a “more targeted method” could lead to more informed consumers who have the information they need to make effective decisions about their health and drug options.

Seek Advice from a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

Do you have questions about injuries resulting from a prescription drug? A Philadelphia personal injury lawyer can speak with you about your case. Contact Cohen, Placitella & Roth for more information.

Contact us for your consultation (215) 567-3500