Pitt Prof Claims Government Surfs Past TV Drug Ads

Article excerpt

Misleading and potentially dangerous advertising reach the public because of inadequate government monitoring of how the pharmaceutical industry markets its products, according to a University of Pittsburgh report.

Spending on pharmaceutical promotion almost tripled in a decade, from $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005, but U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforcement of drug advertising rules declined, according to the research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Such ads need to be carefully monitored and rules enforced," said Julie Donohue, lead author of the article and assistant professor at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. "We have the right regulations in place, but the FDA is lacking resources to enforce them."

FDA letters to pharmaceutical manufacturers noting violations of laws regarding drug ads fell from 142 in 1997 to 21 in 2006, according to the report.

"Some of the letters come after the advertising campaign has run its course," said Donohue, who conducted the research with collaborators at Harvard University's School of Public Health and Vanderbilt University.

The FDA declined to comment, citing pending bills in Congress that would provide more money for FDA review of drug advertisements and more power to take action against misleading advertisements.

The report focused on direct-to-consumer advertising -- television, radio and magazine ads that encourage people to talk with doctors about name-brand prescription drugs. Spending on such advertising increased 330 percent since 1996.

"I do get, periodically, calls and the patient asks, 'Can I try this medication that I saw advertised?' " said Dr. Krishman Gopal, president of the Allegheny County Medical Society and a colorectal surgeon at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. "Recently they've been asking that more often."

"I tell the patients that I think it's good to discuss, but you don't have to go by just the advertisement," he said. "Physicians should be able to explain why (a medicine) is or is not appropriate."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- which represents U. …