Should Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising Be Allowed?

SEPTEMBER 14, 2015
Lately, there has been some controversy over direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising and whether such drug promotion should be permitted.

The United States and New Zealand are the only nations that currently allow DTC advertising. The FDA oversees prescription drug advertising to ensure that all ads are truthful, balanced, and accurately communicated.
The 3 types of DTC advertisements are product claim ads, reminder ads, and help-seeking ads.1

Product claim ads discuss a drug and the condition it treates. They must mention the medication’s risks and benefits.

Reminder ads provide the drug’s name, but not its indications. On the other hand, help-seeking ads describe a disease or condition, but do not recommend a specific medication.1
Do DTC advertisements provide enough information about the risks and benefits of medications? The FDA recently analyzed data from a survey to determine whether Americans believe DTC ads provide sufficient information about the risks and benefits of medications.2 

The study found that 52% of participants do not believe there is enough information about the risks, and 46% reported there is insufficient information about benefits.2 These findings suggest that DTC ads have room for improvement.
Kim Kardashian’s Instagram post promoting the morning sickness medication Diclegis has been under fire for its lack of risk information  about the drug. The FDA even sent a warning letter to the manufacturer Duchesnay about it.3
All of these factors raise important questions about DTC ads in the United States. While the ads can help educate consumers about medications and conditions, some evidence suggests that they may lead to unnecessary medication prescribing.

Currently, it is voluntary for drug companies to submit ads prior to being shown on TV, but it should be mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to submit ads for FDA approval. Additionally, ads should always inform viewers to discuss medications with their pharmacist.

DTC ads should be permitted, but with stricter regulations. Once a false or misleading ad becomes publically available, the damage has already been done.
Pharmacists can play an important role in educating patients about medications and drug advertising. Pharmacists are in a great position to describe the benefits and risks of medications based on evidence-based medicine. 
The next time you see a DTC ad, what recommendations will you make?
  1. FDA. Keeping watch over direct-to-consumer ads. Available at: Accessed September 11, 2015.
  2. Sullivan JW, Campbell M. Do prescription drug ads tell consumers enough about benefits and side effects?  Results from the health information national trends survey, fourth administration. J Health Commun. 2015 June 29:1-6 [Epub ahead of print].
  3. FDA. Warning letter. Available at: Accessed September 11, 2015.

Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, received her PharmD degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Pharmacy in 2006 and completed a 2-year drug information residency. She served as a pharmacy professor at NSU’s College of Pharmacy for 6 years, managed the drug information center, and conducted medication therapy management reviews. Dr. Gershman has published research on prescription drug abuse, regulatory issues, and drug information in various scholarly journals. Additionally, she received the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award for her collaboration with the Broward, Florida Sheriff’s Office to prevent prescription drug abuse through a drug disposal program. She has also presented at pharmacist and physician continuing education programs on topics that include medication errors, prescription drug abuse, and legal and regulatory issues. Dr. Gershman can be followed on Twitter @jgershman2