May 21st, 2008

Congressmen Go After 'Deceptive' Pharma Ads

By Steve Miller
BrandWeek

Congressional leaders this week asked heads of four of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies to pledge to marketing practices—in particular direct-to-consumer ads—that could reduce misleading and deceptive prescription drug advertising.

U.S. Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., sent letters dated Tuesday to pharma heavyweights Merck, Pfizer, Schering-Plough and Johnson & Johnson. The letters request that the companies adhere to guidelines, including:

• “To not market products in DTC advertisements until a valid outcomes study of the product in completed and results are released.”
• “Place a two-year DTC advertisement moratorium on new prescription drug products, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.”
• “Add the Food and Drug Administration’s toll-free MedWatch phone number in all DTC advertisements.”

In relation to the last request, Congress has asked the FDA to study whether adding the toll-free number, which is required in print ads for prescription drugs, would be an effective way to learn about harmful side effects.

The letters relate to a May 8 hearing in which representatives from the four pharmaceutical companies defended their DTC advertising. The hearing was centered on three broadcast ads: Pfizer’s ads for Lipitor featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik, Merck/Schering-Plough’s “Food & Family” ads for Vytorin and Johnson & Johnson’s ads for Procrit. The ads have been voluntarily removed.

“Consumers should not have to rely on the oversight function of Congress to make sure drug companies tell the truth in their ad campaigns. Pharmaceutical companies should consider it a privilege to air DTC ads and, as with all privileges, there comes responsibility,” Stupak said in a statement. “We intend to make certain that drug companies market their products properly in order to protect American consumers from manipulative commercials designed to mislead and deceive for profit.”

The letters ask for an “immediate” response, while a second hearing on DTC advertising is being considered. According to the letters, a response by the companies “will determine the nature as well as the role of you and your company in the hearing.”

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