A Win-Win for Pharmaceuticals

Article excerpt

Byline: Allan H. Conney, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Advertisements for prescription drugs bombard us daily - in magazines, newspapers and on television.

These persuasive direct-to-consumer ads compete for our attention and our dollars, but do they better inform the audience or improve medical care and public health? Captivated by the latest news concerning Vioxx, Celebrex and nonprescription Aleve, Americans are now debating this question in the harsh light of reality.

The pharmaceutical industry spends about $3 billion yearly advertising to people who may not be able to judge the effectiveness or desirability of one drug over another. The American Medical Association published a study this year criticizing the pharmaceutical ads for their lack of information on cost, alternative treatment options and adverse effects.

The World Health Organization has said these ads may represent a conflict of interest between business goals and the rational use of drugs by the public. In Europe, advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers is prohibited; perhaps it is time we seriously consider such action here.

Excesses in U.S. pharmaceutical advertising now fuel the controversy over high drug prices and heighten concerns about newly revealed, potentially lethal drug side-effects. This obscures the industry's history of developing new treatments and miraculous cures for a host of diseases and disorders.

The pharmaceutical industry defends its advertising, contending it is educational and encourages consumers to take part in managing their health care. I suggest public education on pharmaceuticals could be better handled by an independent group with no vested interest in increasing sales.

Pharmacy schools and medical schools nationwide are a source of qualified scientists and practitioners with expertise and knowledge in drug therapy, drug toxicity and cost-benefit analysis. …