Case for Advertising Information about Prescription Medicines

Article excerpt

Director, Policy Development, Professional Medical Relations, and Marketing Practices, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada

Restrictions on what they can advertise in Canada hamper pharmaceutical manufacturers in providing information on prescription medicines that consumers want and need. Allowing them to provide that information directly to consumers is seen as resulting in better-informed consumers, more effective health care, and better utilization of health care resources. Speech to the second National Conference on Cost-Effective Drug Therapy, Toronto, November 27, 1997.

I've entitled my presentation "The Great Canadian Pharmaceutical Advertising Anomaly."

During the next few minutes, I will show you why that anomaly exists, why it is imperative that the situation be changed, and why it is important that, as health care consumers, we must all work together to help bring about change.

The subject of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines can be a sensitive one. It is certainly one that poses a special challenge to everyone who has a stake in the Canadian health care system.

My message to you today is simply this: it's time for all of us to take up that challenge.

In fact, it's time for us to seize the opportunity to work towards the development of a uniquely-Canadian direct-to-consumer-advertising (DCTA) model. A model that will serve the best interests of health care consumers in Canada, and the Canadian health care system.

Why is it necessary for us to address this issue? Here's why.

In Canada, direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines is allowed only to the extent of the name of the medicine, its price, and quantity.

This restriction limits the freedom of pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide information about specific medicines, and to respond to increasing demands for information from consumers.

However, a trip to the magazine counter of your neighborhood supermarket, pharmacy, or corner shop will enable you to purchase magazines produced in the U.S. -- magazines that are filled with prescription medicine advertisements produced by U.S.-based pharmaceutical manufacturers.

In fact, according to the U.S. Audit Bureau of Circulation, in 1995, the total circulation, in Canada, of U.S. magazines was over 10 million copies (10,273,236). That figure represents more than 86 million (86,233,581) actual copies of those magazines in the hands of Canadian consumers. The large majority of those magazines carry advertisements on prescription medicines -- advertisements that originate in the U.S.A. Advertisements over which our regulatory authorities have no jurisdiction.

A similar situation exists in terms of television. Advertisements on prescription medicines are being beamed daily into Canadian households from television stations in the United States -- with no limitations or restrictions.

Finally, a search of the Internet by Canadians will reveal similar ads and extensive medicine-related advertising and information.

Is this situation an anomaly or not? Of course it is. It's not only an anomaly -- it's a situation that is unrealistic and unsustainable.

I hope, therefore, that when we leave this session today, each of us will think carefully about this situation, and about ways in which we can contribute to its optimal resolution.

As partners in the health care system and as health care consumers, we must become more active in changing how the system works.

Access to current information on pharmaceuticals is the foundation of wise decisions about what to prescribe and what to consume. (1) And, a well-informed patient is essential to rational, or optimal, drug therapy.

Paradoxically, products as potentially hazardous as prescription medicines are often prescribed and dispensed in Canada with little more than a "use as directed" statement printed on the container label. …