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Doctor group considering limits on drug ads

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Amid increased scrutiny of advertising drugs directly to consumers, the American Medical Association is considering backing a government moratorium on drug ads.

The largest U.S. doctor group, representing a quarter of a million physicians, is being asked by members to put its considerable lobbying clout behind federal legislation that would severely limit TV commercials and print ads targeted at consumers once drugs are approved in the United States.

A moratorium – which would delay the start of an ad after a drug is approved – is supported by several state and national medical groups within the AMA. Support for such a measure would turn up pressure on the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies just as Congress and the FDA weigh how to ensure consumer safety once prescription drugs reach the market.

Doctors who testified at Sunday’s annual AMA meeting here said potentially unsafe prescription drugs are getting into the hands of people who do not need them because of the $4 billion the industry spends each year on TV and print ads aimed at consumers. Most ads mainly urge consumers to talk to their doctors, with side effects noted in a quiet tagline or voice-over at the end of the ad.

“Consumers tend to retain more about the benefits of these medications than the risks,” said Dr. Scott Worman, a family practice physician from Oceanside, Calif.

Drugmakers are so concerned about the AMA’s stance on consumer advertising that they have deployed their Washington lobbying group to Chicago to sway doctors against a recommendation to tighten regulations on drug ads.

One drug company last week announced a voluntary moratorium period for new drugs.

Dr. Paul Antony, chief medical officer for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, told AMA members that drug ads have improved awareness of diseases and encourage patients to see their doctors.

The industry, he said, is on the verge of making voluntary changes.

The FDA’s 1997 decision to make it easier for drug companies to tailor commercials for the public opened up the advertising floodgates.

Consumer ad spending by pharmaceutical companies has quadrupled from about $1 billion in 1998.

Many doctors testified in favor of a moratorium that would allow doctors several months after a drug was approved to discuss the medicine’s safety and efficacy profile with their patients before ads hit the airwaves.

The AMA’s 543-member House of Delegates will vote as early as Tuesday on the measure, one of dozens the group will consider during its meeting, which runs through Wednesday in Chicago.

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