AMA board chair-elect Patrice Harris said that the vote “reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions,” specifically railing on the drug companies getting people hooked on expensive drugs.

To this point, the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. With the push for the ban by one of the most prestigious medical establishments in the country, we should listen.

They are also demanding greater transparency in prescription drug prices and costs.

Other doctors are joining the cause. Michael Carome, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research division, stated: “We agree that such advertising is primarily promotional,” explaining that it is “not educational” and that it “drives up the cost of drugs.”

It is now up to the US Congress to pass the ban.

Americans spend $200 billion a year on prescription drugs. Among the top selling and highly profitable prescription drugs being advertised on TV and their respective advertising budgets in 2005 were:

Nexium (acid reflux)- $224 million in advertising costs;
Lunesta (insomnia)- $214 million;
Vytorin (cholesterol-lowering)- $155 million;
Crestor (cholesterol-lowering)- $144 million;
Advair (asthma and COPD)- $137 million
Flonase (asthma and allergies)- $111 million;
Lamisil (anti-fungal)- $110 million;
Plavix (anti-clotting)- $110 million;
Cialis (erectile dysfunction)- $110 million;
Lipitor (cholesterol-lowering)- $93 million.

In its latest SEC filings, Pfizer (the largest U.S. drug company, soon to become even larger, after it merges later this year with Wyeth, another giant), states that among its biggest sellers are:

Lipitor ($12.4 billon in sales)
Celebrex ($2.5 billion)
Viagra ($1.9 billion)
Chantrix (almost $1 billion)

Yes, drugs are big business, and advertising helps.

Big Pharma – Drug Pushers?

One of the biggest problems with this direct-to-consumer advertising is that it helps drive demand and costs upward by convincing more patients to “talk to their doctor,” thus presumably encouraging a doctor who is not currently prescribing the drug to start doing so. The real purpose of such advertising is not so much to inform the public as it is to drive choice, “typically in the direction of expensive brand-name drugs.”

Until all of this advertising started, who knew that high cholesterol was such a rampant medical condition in the U.S.? Who knew that so many middle-aged men were suffering from erectile dysfunction, and so many women suffering from active bladder syndrome? Now we have new drugs for “restless leg syndrome,” a condition many doctors believe is mostly over-diagnosed, driven by the media blitz (See: “How the Media Helps Make People Sick”).

All of these advertising costs help drive the cost of medicines sky high. Drug companies spend about 13% of their revenue on new research and development, seeking new drugs to help us all. Meanwhile, these same companies spend almost twice as much (25%) advertising their current product line.

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