Are drug ads really true?
We’ve all seen them on TV. And they can be very convincing. Drug advertisements emphasize a myriad of health benefits, balanced by some possible side-effects. But are these ads potentially misleading viewers? A recent report says yes.
Six out of ten claims in drug advertisements can potentially mislead the viewer, according to the study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Researchers Adrienne E. Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and David H. Kreling of The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy studied both prescription and non-prescription television advertisements.
Using content from the Vanderbilt TV News Archive, they reviewed 168 commercials that ran at 6:30pm on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN from 2008 and 2010. The researchers identified claims that were strongly emphasized in the ad. Then a team of trained analysts classified whether those claims were truthful, potentially misleading or false.
Researchers discovered that 60 percent of the claims in prescription advertisements were potentially misleading, meaning that contained exaggerated information, left out important details, provided opinions or made meaningless associations with lifestyles. The non-prescription advertisements had an even higher percentage, with 80 percent of the claims being misleading or false.
Additionally, study leaders found that only 10 percent of the claims were false, meaning that they were factually false or unsubstantiated. These results were not surprising because false advertising is illegal and can lead to penalties.
While the researchers only studied a specific window of time, the results are still valuable. “Consumers may see up to 30 hours of television drug advertising each year, while only spending 15 to 20 minutes, on average, at each visit with their primary care physician,” said Faerber.
“Faerber’s point is well taken,” said Mark Greg, Manager of Clinical Programs at Advocate Physician Partners. “With so much drug advertising out there, it’s easy for consumers to get wrapped up in the hype. Some of these drugs are becoming household names. But every drug is not a good fit for everyone.”
Greg advises, “It’s best to consult with your doctor to weigh the costs and benefits of taking any medication. As the research shows, an advertisement may be convincing, but it may not be the best source of health information.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has oversight on the prescription drug advertising and The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees nonprescription drug advertising. The definitions of false and misleading claims between the two agencies are slightly different. The FDA, for example, requires that prescription drug advertising includes the risks of the drug, whereas the FTC does not for non-prescription drugs.
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