Pharmacists Call For Ban on Direct-To-Consumer Drug Ads

An organization of pharmacists is calling for all direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription medications to stop, indicating that much of of the information provided is misleading and contributes to the overuse of pharmaceutical drugs. 

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) indicated at its annual meeting earlier this month in Baltimore, Maryland that drug advertisements directed at patients should be banned. The group approved a policy to push congress to enact restrictions on commercials, magazine ads and other prescription drug and medication-containing device advertisements that target consumers.

“ASHP believes that medication education provided by pharmacists and other providers as part of the provider-patient relationship is a much more effective way to make patients aware of available therapies, rather than relying on direct-to-consumer advertising,” ASHP CEO Paul W. Abramowitz said in a press release.

The ASHP’s policy comes after a similar ban was advocated by the American Medical Association (AMA) in November 2015. The group called for an end to aggressive advertising campaigns by pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers which are not intended to educate physicians, but instead are meant to encourage patients to talk to their doctors about receiving a specific product.

According to the AMA, $4.5 billion is spent every year on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical devices; an increase of 30% over the last two years. The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow such ads.

In addition, the ASHP noted that in 2002 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that regulatory oversight has failed to prevent misleading advertising by pharmaceutical companies.

Aggressive drug marketing has been blamed on the widespread use of many different medications that have ultimately proven to be unsafe or ineffective.

A report by the BBC published in November 2014 found that most major drug companies spent far more on marketing than they did actual research the year before.

The global pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was one such example highlighted in the BBC report, which indicates that the drug maker spent $17.5 billion last year on drug marketing. However, only $8.2 billion was spent on research and development, leading the company to generate $13.8 billion in profits in 2013; a profit margin of 19%.

Some Aggressively Marketed Drugs Have Safety Problems Later

A number of drugs that have been aggressively marketed in recent years have ultimately ended up linked to serious safety questions, raising concerns about whether FDA approval should be the threshold for allowing pharmaceutical companies to encourage patients to ask their doctors for a specific medication.

Johnson & Johnson’s diabetes drug Invokana (canagliflozin) was the first member of a new class of medications introduced in March 2013, known as sodium-glucose-cotransporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors. Farxiga (dapagliflozin) was the second member, introduced in 2014, followed by other similar drugs like Jardiance, Invokamet, Xigduo XR and Glyxambi.

During the short time the new-generation of diabetes drugs have been on the market, they have rapidly grown to become big-sellers, largely driven by direct-to-consumer advertisements where the drug makers encouraged patients to seek out the new diabetes treatments.

In 2015,  the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen raised serious questions about some of these advertisements in a letter to the FDA, indicating that the pharmaceutical companies were making deceptive and illegal pitches with those ads.

As more diabetics were switched to the new drugs, the FDA has issued a steady stream of warnings and drug safety communications about potential side effects of Invokana and similar drugs, including warnings that they could cause ketoacidosis, bone fractures, amputations, and dangerous urinary tract and kidney infections.

Earlier this month the FDA also added new label requirements to Invokana, Invokamet, Farxiga and Xigduo XR, to warn consumers that they could also cause acute kidney injuries that could cause kidney failure, require transplants and lead to dialysis treatment or even death.

A growing number of individuals who experienced problems after being prescribed these new drugs are now pursuing Invokana lawsuits, Invokamet lawsuits, Farxiga lawsuits and Xigduo lawsuits, each involving allegations that the manufacturers promoted the medications without adequately researching the potential side effects or providing proper warnings for consumers and the medical community.

Similarly, testosterone replacement therapy drugs, once considered a niche treatment, have seen exploding popularity in recent years amid direct-to-consumer advertisements that encouraged men to seek treatments for “low T” if they have experienced drops in energy, sex drive or strength, which are common problems as men age.

“Low T” is not an official medical term, but rather a phrase coined by marketing firms to promote Androgel and other blockbuster treatments that have grown to generate more than $2 billion a year in sales.

In recent years, these direct-to-consumer advertisements have raised serious questions, as side effects of testosterone drugs have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and even death among some men.

Many experts now indicate that many of the prescriptions for testosterone replacement therapy in recent years have not been medically justified, but were rather handed out by doctors for “life-style reasons”, often after men asked their doctors for the treatments.

Following studies published in recent years highlighting the potential heart risks men may face from testosterone replacement therapy, the FDA now warns doctors not to prescribe the medications unless men have permanent testosterone deficiencies caused by certain medical conditions, indicating that the drugs may not be safe for low testosterone levels caused by aging.

Thousands of men are now pursuing Androgel lawsuits, Axiron lawsuits, Testim lawsuits and other testosterone treatment lawsuits against the drug makers, alleging that they recklessly promoted the medications and withheld information about the potential heart risks.


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