Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals - a prescription for change

A 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guideline change allowed pharmaceutical companies to target audiences through television and print media whereas before, the FDA requirements were so extensive that advertising to consumers was unprofitable. The onslaught of advertisements for prescription pharmaceuticals since 1997 has resulted in an increase in drugs prescribed to consumers, and a higher likelihood of a consumer receiving a prescription for a requested drug when that drug has been advertised. The informational value of advertisements to consumers varies widely, and the majority of consumers hold misperceptions about the federal requirements of pharmaceutical advertisements, many believing that the advertisements are government-approved or that the drugs advertised are “completely safe”. The literature review revealed that the arguments supporting direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription pharmaceuticals were theoretical in nature and unfounded while the research supported the conclusion that DTCA causes a net harm to societal health. A criteria-alternative matrix was used to evaluate various public policy alternatives using four criteria: cost to implement, effect on the cost of medications, effect on societal health, and effect on reducing the number of drug advertisements in violation of FDA guidelines. After evaluating how well the policy alternatives satisfy the criteria, the alternatives were further assessed to determine how feasible they would be to implement considering the current political climate. The policy alternative with the greatest benefit to society is a ban on DTCA in the U.S, however, that policy alternative is the least likely to be implemented due to the current political climate and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. As other countries consider allowing DTCA, it is essential that they take note of the deleterious effect DTCA has had in the United States.

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