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Drug Company Advertising Skyrocketed In 2015: Report

Pharmaceutical companies are increasing advertising spending faster than any other industry, according to the findings of a new report that highlights increasing concerns about widespread drug advertising that encourages individuals to seek specific prescription treatments from their doctors. 

In report by Advertising Age issued on late last month, data indicates tha drug companies increased ad revenue by 15.6% overall in 2015. The increases far outpace ad growth in travel, which increased 10.1% and was the industry with the second-fastest ad spending growth.

The findings comes at a time when many medical groups are calling for drug companies to curb advertising, or indicating that there should be a ban direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs, arguing that the aggressive marketing is resulting in patients taking drugs they do not need, or spending more on brand names when they could be using generics that are just as safe and effective.

Of the report’s top 10 list of fastest growing individual companies, half were pharmaceuticals, with Novo Nordisk ranking in fourth place with a 195% increase in ad spending in 2015, for a total of $261 million. At number five, Valeant increased ad spending by 88%, to $441 million. GlaxoSmithKline came in at sixth place spent $948 million, a 56% increase in advertising spending. Sanofi came in at number nine, with a 47% increase in ad spending for a total of $901 million. Gilead Sciences was in tenth place with $391 million, representing a 36% increase in advertising spending for 2015.

The report was released at about the same time that the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) indicated at its annual meeting last month 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.

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.

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%.

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