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Sunday, July 3rd 2005

Pharmaceutical DTC Advertising

Direct-to-Consumer advertising, television and print ads for prescription drugs, have been blasted by physicians and their policy arms for the past several years. They feel, and some evidence supports this, that ads effect the inappropriate prescribing of drugs.

Take this as a typical case — a patient sees an ad for Vioxx; previously diagnosed with arthritis the patient becomes convinced the drug will better manage her pain; the patient asks her doctor about it; although the doctor has reservations about the drug’s potential side effects he is so busy and so afraid that the patient will simply move to another doctor that he gives it to her.

Recently even Sen. Frist has come out for restrictions on DTC. The trouble is, this really isn’t a matter of irresponsibility amongst the drug companies, it is one amongst physicians. There are legitimate uses for direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs and it would be a failure of the judicial system if it didn’t see any attempt to restrict such as a violation of the first amendment. I understand that their are limits to such speech rights and that the argument is that the drug companies are overstepping their boundaries, and almost ‘giving medical advice’ by running these ads. I simply don’t believe such a threshold has been met, especially when physicians themselves seem to be skirting their own responsibility whenever a patient shows up asking for a certain drug. If you read some of the Op/Eds on the issue you’d imagine that the defense, “She’s just going to get it somewhere else,” is a legitimate one. Try imagining a junkie coke dealer saying the same thing in court…

However much more time it consumes of a physician’s day, they need to do two things to firm up their own responsibility in this matter. First, despite evidence drug companies have a giant hand in studies of their drugs, become informed on the unbiased studies surrounding popular prescription drugs. Two, have the resolve to tell a patient ‘no’, and explain yourself, even if the consequence is the loss of such a patient.

It is irresponsible to limit the rights of others, even if they are faceless billion dollar corporations, just because physicians feel too ‘burdened’ to deal with their end of this problem. Anyway, that’s a libertarian take on the situation.

You can read more on Sen. Frist’s leap into the debate at Med Rants.