Hard to believe, but most advertisements from the multibillion dollar drug industry actually are misleading. A recent study examined pharmaceutical advertisement geared toward doctors and found that only mon Dieu! a paltry 18% actually conformed to FDA guidelines. These guidelines were recently set up in order to identify the ‘bad ads” or those ads which did not conform to the guidelines.

What were some of the issues? Well, critical information was often conveniently left out.  Articles referred to references, which could not be verified. The more dangerous side effects of the drug in question were minimized (ie perhaps put in that very small type which no one reads anyway) Fancy graphics were misleading and confusing.

Some might wonder-who cares? I mean, the FDA wouldn’t let any drug hit the market which hasn’t been proven safe and effective, right? And these drugs are never just copies of similar older and much cheaper versions.

As you might expect the answer to both is no. Just because a medication has been approved does not necessarily mean that it is always safe and effective. These drugs to be sure have been published in reputable, peer reviewed medical journals. However, as I have mentioned in earlier blogs, these drug sponsored studies are anything but unbiased and at times are found to have results which cannot be reproduced elsewhere. The pharmacy spends about 55 billion dollars yearly on its ads. Contrast this with the 9 million or so the FDA spends in one year on policing these ads and yes, Houston we have a problem.

To make matters even worse, the FDA regulations are themselves confusing and inadequate. For example, an ad which did not quantify safety data, had no verifiable references and no mention of  proof that the product actually works would still, under current FDA guidelines be ok.

The FDA should continue to promote its “bad ad” campaign, in which we doctors are encouraged to report ” bad ads” to the FDA. Drug companies should be paying the FDA more money out of their multibillion dollar profits so that the agency can hire more help to monitor these ads. And yes, the guidelines need to simple and complete. Doctors need to take the time to read these ads carefully and avoid prescribing the “latest and greatest” drug without doing their homework.