WASHINGTON DC: US lawmakers are continuing their efforts to curb what they view as the worst excesses of direct-to-consumer drugs advertising.

Congressmen have written to the heads of pharmaceutical giants Merck, Pfizer, Schering-Plough and Johnson & Johnson asking them to stick to guidelines which demand that they:

  • Do not market products in DTC advertisements until a valid 'outcomes study' of the product is 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.

    The letter was sent following a congressional hearing at which the pharma companies defended their DTC marketing practices in relation to specific drugs. All those ads have now been voluntarily removed.

    Says Democrat congressman Bart Stupak: "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.

    "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 lawmakers now await a reply.

  • Meantime, Merck has reached a $58 million (€36.7m; £29m) settlement with thirty state attorneys-general over ads for its controversial Vioxx pain killer, which was heavily marketed to consumers but pulled from sale in 2004 after serious side-effects were reported.

    The pharma giant has agreed to submit all DTC television commercials to the FDA before they are aired – a move already voluntarily agreed by most of its rivals in an effort to prevent legislative regulation of the ads.

    In addition, Merck must postpone advertising new pain-relief drugs if the FDA recommends a delay for any reason.  

    Comments Merck evp-general counsel Bruce Kuhlik: "Merck remains committed to communications that help patients and their physicians choose medicines based on accurate, fair and balanced information.

    "Today's agreement enables Merck to put this matter behind us and focus on what Merck does best, developing new medicines."

  • Data sourced from AdAge.com and Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff