Congress should consider whether pharmaceutical companies should continue to produce direct-to-consumer advertisements or whether lawmakers should impose additional restrictions on the practice, House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said today. Stupak's panel held a hearing today on three popular direct-to-consumer ads, two of which were pulled after Stupak and Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell launched an investigation into potential deceptive practices in pharmaceutical advertising. The three ads featured included a commercial for the cholesterol drug Lipitor featuring Robert Jarvik; an ad for the cholesterol drug Vytorin; and another for the chemotherapy- or dialysis-induced anemia drug Procrit.
"If the three ads that we will discuss today are indicative of typical DTC ad campaigns, it appears that we need to enforce significant restrictions on DTC ads to protect American consumers from manipulative commercials designed to mislead and deceive for the profit of pharmaceutical companies," Stupak said. Ruth Day, director of the Medical Cognition Laboratory at Duke University, told lawmakers today that her experiments found people who watch direct-to-consumer ads correctly remember the benefits of a drug 80 percent of the time, while the side effects were remembered 20 percent of the time.
FDA has a division dedicated to policing the ads, but GAO found the agency does not track which ads had been reviewed, even though it has created criteria to prioritize ad reviews. "As a result, the agency cannot ensure that it is identifying and reviewing the highest-priority materials," GAO wrote in a report today. House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee ranking member John Shimkus, R-Ill., cautioned against premature congressional action. In a bill passed in September, the agency was granted the authority to fine companies that produce false or misleading ads. Until then, its only defense against persistent false or misleading advertisements was to call an administrative hearing after which fines may be assessed. Shimkus suggested Congress should wait until it can assess how FDA asserts this power.
This article appears in the May 10, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.