PhRMA defends DTC ads amid scrutiny

WASHINGTON: Sen. Dr. Bill Frist (R-TN) has asked the drug industry to voluntarily instate a two-year moratorium on direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads for new products.

WASHINGTON: Sen. Dr. Bill Frist (R-TN) has asked the drug industry to voluntarily instate a two-year moratorium on direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads for new products.

Nick Smith, Frist's deputy communications director, noted that physicians want more time to become familiar with drugs before patients request them.

"Sen. Frist has heard from a number of colleagues about their concerns," he said.

Frist has also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake a review of how DTC ads impact areas such as healthcare spending and patient education.

Industry trade organization PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association) sent out a statement defending DTC advertising and debunking the link to higher drug prices.

"Educational advertising empowers patients to seek guidance from doctors, which can lead to earlier detection and treatment of diseases," said Ken Johnson, SVP of communications, in the statement. "That is the real power of education and information."

Frist's remarks come a little more than a month after two senators introduced a bill that would require companies to reimburse Medicare for drugs advertised to the public.

Drug marketing has been a political minefield for the industry, which is hoping to stave off such regulation.

Companies like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have turned to more grassroots initiatives as part of image campaigns. Bristol-Myers Squibb last month initiated its own one-year ad ban for new products.

Michael Durand, partner and director of the health practice at Porter Novelli, noted that ad bans would not mean larger PR budgets.

"PR is not interchangeable with advertising," he said. "One can't substitute for the other."

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