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Healthy Skepticism International News

UBC Pharma SA Atarax (hydroxyzine)

February 1998

Vol16 Issue 1/2 Our letter about UBC Pharma's promotion of Atarax (hydroxyzine) in the Ivory Coast was based on incorrect information and so has been removed from this Web site. No back issues are available for this issue. A correction statement will be published soon. Reports: Increased US drug consumption driven by increased spending on direct to the consumer promotion

Increased US drug consumption driven by increased spending on direct to the consumer promotion

According to a report in Scrip,2 US pharmaceutical companies spent around $US 1 billion on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising during 1997, helping to drive corporate sales and profits to higher levels.

Scrip states that “DTC adverts have become a major marketing force in the industry and a key driver of future growth. Following the easing of FDA restrictions on DTC ads last year, the number of commercials has soared. Spending on advertising climbed to $728 million by the end of October, an audit by Scott-Levin Media has found.

Product categories

Advertising for antihistamines, antifungals, cholesterol reducers, inhaled steroids and calcium channel blockers represented about half of the $728 million in expenditures, according to the Scott-Levin Media audit.

Five drugs accounted for one-third of spending - Hoechst Marion Roussel’s Allegra (fexofenadine), $64.1 million, Schering-Plough’s Claritin (loratadine), $53.7 million, Pfizer’s Zyrtee (cetirizine), $51.2 million, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hypolipaemic, Pravachol (pravastatin), $49.1 million, and Glaxo Wellcome’s Flonase (fluticasone propionate) nasal spray for allergies, $41.2 million. All except Pravachol are anti-allergy treatments.

Under the new regulations, manufacturers can give their name and that of the product, and its benefits, in TV and radio advertisements. They need only give the product’s major side-effects and must include a referral to a freephone number and a magazine advertisement for other side-effects and interactions (see Scrip No 2258, p 12).

Views of doctors

While DTC advertising is driving up sales, particularly of new products, many doctors are somewhat wary of the concept, according to a recent IMS America survey, which showed that 61% of doctors would like to see manufacturers stop or reduce the frequency of the advertising.

Other findings of the survey include:

41% of doctors believe that DTC advertisements both educate and confuse consumers because they generally lack adequate knowledge about drugs, particularly interactions.
One-third said DTC advertisements are misleading because they fail to educate patients sufficiently about product indications, efficacy, side-effects, etc.
20% feel DTC advertisements disturb the doctor-patient relationship, causing doctors to spend excessive time justifying their prescribing decision and explaining why a requested drug is inappropriate for a particular condition or situation.

 

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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909