Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Direct-to-Consumer Drug Ads

22 May 2001

A US Senate consumer affairs subcommittee is to hold a hearing to investigate whether direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs leads to a rise in prices.

The investigation is headed by Democrat senator Byron Dorgan, who says he is merely seeking information. However, ad lobbyists are concerned that the hearing may ultimately lead to a ban on such marketing.

The controversy centers on claims that the advertising of drugs –worth $2.6 billion last year – encourages people to visit their doctors, who are in turn pressured into writing prescriptions for expensive treatments, the cost of which then rises.

Ad lobby groups dispute this. The Association of National Advertisers, the American Advertising Federation and the American Association of Advertising Agencies have formed a coalition to fight the accusations.

“A lot of people pay attention to the risk information in the print ads,” commented John Calfee, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who will testify on behalf of the coalition. “A lot of people do talk to their doctors about what they see in the ads, but it is usually during their next appointment. It is unusual for them to call their doctor and make an appointment as a result of the ad.”

Dan Jaffe, executive vp at the ANA, also took up the defensive: “In a free society, shouldn’t drug companies be able to talk to the American public truthfully and non-deceptively about life-and-death issues? The answer is clearly yes.”

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