UK consumer group sees disaster in direct-to-consumer drug advertising

המידע באדיבות מדיקונטקסט
Last Updated: 2001-07-10 15:28:02 EDT (Reuters Health)

By Jon Hoeksma

LONDON (Reuters Health) – The Consumers' Association warned Tuesday that if the European Commission relaxes rules banning direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising in Europe, "disastrous consequences" would follow for the UK National Health Service, leading to spiralling drugs budgets.

In a new report, "Promotion of prescription drugs: public health or private profit?", the association says EC proposals to relax the rules on providing information on drugs for AIDS, diabetes and asthma–due to be published on July 18–will lead to a US-style boom in pharmaceutical marketing targeted at consumers.

The consumer group has written to EC officials and the UK Government, urging them to put "public interest before the demands of the pharmaceutical industry." It argues that the introduction of DTC pharmaceutical advertising in the US helped fuel an 84% increase in drug bills between1993 and 1998.

Louise Ansari, spokesperson for the Consumer's Association, told Reuters Health that DTC drug advertising had "had a monumental impact on drug budgets in both New Zealand and the US." She confirmed that the group had yet to see a copy of the draft EC proposals, but would be "lobbying hard" once they are published.

But Richard Ley, spokesperson for the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), pointed out that the EC proposals had yet to be published. He told Reuters Health "our understanding is that they won't change anything to do with drug advertising." All they will enable, he said, "is for pharmaceutical companies to provide patients with quality information on drugs, under a strict code of conduct."

At the moment the information that pharmaceutical companies can provide to patients in Europe is strictly defined by law, restricted to mandatory information such as contra-indications and side effects. Drug companies are banned from providing patients with promotional information on specific drugs.

Ley flatly rejected the suggestion that any change in regulations would open the floodgates to US-style TV advertising of prescription drugs. "We simply believe that patients are entitled to more information on their medicines, and with the Internet you can't block their access to this kind of information if they want it."

The Consumers' Association, however, questions the better patient information argument, saying its research has found advertising information to be generally of poor quality. It also says that in a recent survey only 6% of respondents said they would trust drug companies to provide accurate information on the best treatment.

Clara Mackay, Principal Policy Adviser at the Consumers' Association, said in a statement: "Patients need better information on drugs and treatments. However, it is not appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry to provide this."

Ansari said that what was needed was an independent comparative source of drug information, ideally available online, and suggested to Reuters Health this could be funded "through a levy on drugs companies."

-London Newsroom +44 20 7542 7986

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