AMA Calls for Increased Disclosures in DTC Drug Ads

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The American Medical Association called for increased disclosures in direct-to-consumer ads earlier this week, raising fears about the ads' effect on patients and drugs prices.

Meeting in Chicago for the annual gathering of the AMA's House of Delegates, association leaders passed a resolution yesterday urging the federal government to require that all DTC drug ads contain the disclosure: "Your physician may recommend other treatment options that may be equally or more effective."

Doctors expressed worries that DTC drug ads, on which pharmaceutical companies now spend in excess of $2 billion according to industry studies, are driving up the price of medicine. Medical professionals also are concerned that DTC ads lead uninformed patients to pressure doctors to prescribe certain drugs and ignore cheaper generic medicines when they often work as well as brand-name drugs.

Originally, the AMA had considered calling for an outright ban on DTC drug ads, which have only been in widespread use since 1997, when the Food and Drug Administration relaxed advertising regulations enough to make them worthwhile.

However, the AMA rejected calling for a ban, citing concerns that such a regulation would violate the First Amendment. The AMA decided to work with the pharmaceutical industry to promote the use of the added disclosure while at the same time seeking both legislative and regulatory changes.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry group representing drug makers, has yet to determine its position on the AMA resolution, said Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the trade group. However, the group sees the resolution as a step in the right direction -- away from calls for an outright ban.

"One of the things we're underscoring now is that the AMA has fallen well short of [calling for] a prohibition of direct-to-consumer ads," Trewhitt said. "We think that it's a constructive development."

The trade group believes that DTC drug ads empower consumers by making them better informed about their healthcare options. They also spread information about new medicines and treatments to doctors.

The ads do lead patients to request specific drugs, but patients tend to listen to their doctors when they are told a drug they saw in a DTC ad is not right for them, Trewhitt said.

"We're convinced that in the vast majority of cases when that happens, the patient accepts the verdict of the doctor," Trewhitt said. "What patients have very clearly signaled is that, in this day of managed care, they want to know what all their treatment options are."

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