Drug industry sells misleading ads – to doctors

We all know that big corporations, given the choice between making profits or obeying the law, mostly go for profits. This capitalist penchant can be fatal to some consumers, who rely upon the safety of the products they use. This law-breaking behavior by the corporate world is especially dangerous when it comes to the selling of prescription drugs that are advertised as safe but are really not.

A recent study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine has disclosed that 82 percent of the ads placed by drug companies in medical journals violate the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on truthfulness and risk disclosure, and more than 50 percent failed to mention that death was a serious possibility from using the drug.

These ads are not directed at the public but at doctors and other health professionals who will be using these drugs to treat people in the future. Dr. Deborah Korenstein, the main author of the report was quoted by Science Daily as saying, “Marketing research has consistently shown that journal advertising is the most profitable form of drug marketing, with an estimated return on investment of five dollars for every dollar spent.” An irresistible temptation to hype your product and cover up its defects it seems.

Dr. Korenstein also remarked that “Our study, the first in nearly 20 years to provide a systematic assessment of the adherence of U.S. advertisements to FDA guidance, shows that the current system is not in the best interest of the health of the public.”

Of course it is not in the best interests of public health for the drug manufacturers to be engaged in massive fraudulent promotions of their products. But what about the FDA? Its job is to enforce the regulations and it seems to be looking the other way with regard to these violations.

It is up to the executive branch to make sure the FDA is doing its job. Congress too is to blame. The drug lobbyists have more influence with our elected representatives than do the people who elect them. That means it is ultimately up to us, as voters, to see to it that everyone does their job. Next year will be a crucial election year and it is up to all progressives to go all out to convince the American people of the dangers that the current Republican agenda holds for democracy itself if it should get its adherents elected or re-elected.

If the right gains more power in 2012, two things won’t happen with respect to the FDA: Its resources to police the drug industry will not be increased, and stiffer regulations against drug industry fraud will not be forthcoming. These are two crucial factors which must come about to keep dangerous drugs from being touted as safe.

Dr Korenstein explains, “The limited resources of the FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing and Advertising are a major barrier to successful regulation of the pharmaceutical industry’s multi-billion dollar marketing budget. We are hopeful that an update in FDA regulations, with increased emphasis on the transparent presentation of basic safety and efficacy information, might improve the quality of information provided in physician-directed pharmaceutical advertisements.”

The science-challenged crop of right-wing ideologues who will be vying for power in next year’s elections have no solutions to this or any other problem facing the American people. Let’s make sure the folks who are going to vote know that and that those who think voting a waste of time know they may have to swallow a bitter pill if they don’t vote.

Photo: Erich Ferdinand // CC 2.0


Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.