Time magazine is reporting that direct to consumer drug advertising in the United States may be threatened by the Obama's administration's determiniation to reign in Big Pharma and runaway drug costs.
How much longer will you be able to see advertisements in which a person blissfully runs through a field after taking some kind of antiallergy medication? Or those in which a down-and-out man is suddenly sunny after being prescribed an antidepressant? How much longer will you giggle at that commercial with the warning that you should call a doctor if a certain condition lasts more than four hours?
These are questions that keep drug companies, as well as the television stations and magazines that subsist on their ad dollars, up at night (Ambien, anyone?). Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising by pharmaceutical companies has always been somewhat controversial. The U.S. is one of only two countries that permit it (New Zealand is the other). Critics claim that these advertisements encourage consumers to seek out overly expensive brand-name drugs from doctors. Their symptoms might not require such medications, and when they do, cheaper generic drugs may be available. Such marketing probably drives up overall health-care costs. More important, new drugs that are aggressively marketed can pose a safety risk. Merck's heavy promotion of pain reliever Vioxx — look at Dorothy Hamill skating without any strain! — is a prime example of advertising gone awry. The drug was later taken off the market after it was found to increase risk for heart attacks.
So with a new President who has vowed to fight Big Pharma to lower drug costs and a Democratic Congress with several anti-DTC advocates, drug and media companies are justifiably jittery. "We are entering an environment that is going to be more open to those who are adamantly opposed to direct-to-consumer advertising," says Jay Bolling, president of Roska Healthcare Advertising in Montgomery, Pa.
Elsewhere, reports are circulating that Barack Obama might allow cheap imported medications to flow from Canada again, reversing an earlier decision by the FDA to ban them.
Now the Obama White House is planning to reverse the policy, to let seniors make a choice where to buy their prescription drugs. Greg Knoll is a healthcare advocate. He supports the Obama proposal, saying he has seen what happens when seniors can't afford prescriptions. "I saw seniors eat cat food in order to afford prescription drugs," said Knoll.
That's one worth watching.