Health-System Pharmacy Association Stands Against DTC Advertising

The largest health-system pharmacy association in the United States is calling on Congress to ban direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.

The largest health-system pharmacy association in the United States is calling on Congress to ban direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) House of Delegates recently approved a policy calling on Congress to ban all DTC advertising for prescription drugs. It cited a 2002 Government Accountability Office report that found “pharmaceutical companies have increased spending on DTC advertising more rapidly than they have increased spending on research and development.”

“For decades, pharmacists practicing in hospitals and clinics have been the leaders in recommending and initiating evidence-based medication therapies in partnership with physicians and other prescribers,” said ASHP CEO Paul W. Abramowitz, PharmD, ScD (Hon.), FASHP, in a press release. “ASHP believes that medication education provided by pharmacists and other providers as part of a provider-patient relationship is a much more effective way to make patients aware of available therapies, rather than relying on [DTC] advertising.”

ASHP’s hard stance is in line with that of the American Medical Association (AMA), which voted to support an all-out ban on DTC advertising in November 2015. In a statement following the vote, AMA’s board chair-elect, Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, said support for “an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is currently reviewing the Responsibility in Drug Advertising Act (HR 4565) that would restrict, but not ban, DTC advertising.

The current language of HR 4565 stipulates that a drug’s sponsor wouldn’t be able to conduct DTC advertising within 3 years of the product’s FDA approval. After the 3-year moratorium, the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services could still prohibit DTC advertising if he or she “determines that the drug has significant adverse health effects based on post-approval studies, risk-benefit analyses, adverse event reports, the scientific literature, and clinical or observational studies, or any other appropriate source,” according to the bill’s current language.

Notably, the legislation would also provide the possibility to obtain a waiver for the moratorium if the drug in question is a breakthrough therapy that’s considered to have “affirmative value to public health.”

“This legislation puts reasonable safety restraints on…[DTC] drug marketing,” said Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and bill sponsor US Representative Rosa DeLauro in a joint press release. “Prescription drug sales should be driven by thoughtful health care decisions between patients and their providers, not by…drug marketers.”

Currently, federal law doesn’t require the FDA to approve advertisements before they’re released to the public, although the agency can investigate claims that broadcasted drug information is false or misleading.

Even though drug manufacturers are currently investing more money in DTC advertising campaigns than ever before, recent study results found that most patients don’t base their health care decisions on what they see on TV. In fact, the percentage of patients who ask their physicians about the drugs they see advertised has dropped to just 7% of 529 survey respondents, down from 21% last year.

The United States and New Zealand are the only countries that currently allow DTC advertising. The European Union recently voted to uphold its ban on DTC ads.