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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 1939

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: media release

Pollard R.
Drug ad pop-ups ruled out of order
Sydney Morning Herald 2005 Jul 26

Medicines Australia advertisements regulation Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim GlaxoSmithKline Sanofi-Aventis Solvay breach Bateman Pfizer

Notes: Ralph Faggotter’s Comments : Patients fondly imagine that the doctor looking at the computer screen is thinking seriously about the best approach to manging their problems — when actually they are often being frantically induced by the software to focus on glossy-brochure style, emotionally seductive, in-your-face ads for drugs are flashed in doctors’ faces at the very moment they are deciding which drugs to prescribe! How has this been allowed to happen? The SMH looks at this phenomenon.

Full text:

Drug ad pop-ups ruled out of order
By Ruth Pollard Health Reporter
July 26, 2005

The federal drug regulator has found several pharmaceutical companies in
breach of the industry’s code of conduct over pop-up computer ads
featuring misleading health claims, inadequate information and illegible
generic drug names.

The ads, which are contained in the computer program used by about 90
per cent of Australian doctors, popped up as GPs typed in prescriptions
and could often be seen by patients.

One breach included an ad from Pfizer about the anti-inflammatory drug
Celebrex, which claimed in December there was “a large body of medical
evidence showing no significant increase in cardiovascular disease”.

In fact, studies had indicated the drug put users at an increased risk
of heart attacks and strokes, prompting the Therapeutic Goods
Administration to order that the drug, when marketed in Australia, must
carry warnings of cardiovascular risk.

The complaints to Medicines Australia against eight pharmaceutical
companies were made by a La Trobe University academic, Ken Harvey, who
also published a study on the alleged breaches of the code in this
month’s Medical Journal of Australia.

Medicines Australia, the drug industry lobby group that is also charged
by the Federal Government with investigating allegations of improper
drug marketing, found breaches proven against six of the companies
regarding seven drugs, according to a document obtained by the Herald.

In most cases, the companies were simply asked to “revise their
advertisements to ensure compliance with the code”.

“Self regulation [of the drug industry] has been proven to fail, the
fines are minuscule compared to the gains to come,” said Dr Harvey, who
is pushing for drug promotion on prescribing software to be banned.

He was critical of ads designed to make the generic drug name illegible,
which led to consumers paying unnecessary premiums for brand names when
they could use cheaper generics.

Although advertising prescription medication directly to consumers is
banned in Australia, patients could see some drug ads, because GPs were
encouraged to use computers to communicate with patients about their health.

Dr Harvey said the findings highlighted the need for tough action by the
Therapeutic Goods Administration.

But Medicines Australia’s spokeswoman, Kay McNiece, said it was
reviewing its code of practice, and had acknowledged that “technology
could be running ahead of regulations”.

Edmund Bateman, the managing director of Primary Health Care, which owns
the Medical Director software, would not comment on whether he would
tighten standards to ensure misleading ads were not published.

“If that information is misleading or inaccurate there is legislation to
cover, and enforcement should ensure that it is not likely to happen in
the future,” he said.

Medicines Australia said last night it had not received any appeals
regarding the findings.

Other companies found in breach include Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim,
GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Solvay (see image attached).




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