At a glance: Advertising OTC drugs

So pharma companies are now allowed to advertise OTC treatments? The ban on advertising OTC drugs for a variety of chronic ailments – such as cardiovascular conditions – has been lifted, as of this week.

The products now free to be advertised include anti-cholesterol treatment Zocor (PRWeek, 21 May), due to go OTC this month.

Sounds like very good news for PROs?

Yes. But the increased exposure for products brings comms challenges. GPs and other health professionals are concerned that lifting the ban on advertising will increase the amount of work they have to do, as patients ask them for information on treatment. There is also a worry that ads from a pharma firm will not be balanced.

So PROs need to be concentrating on patient and doctor education?

There is a clear need to emphasise health messages in a bid to allay suspicion over naked profiteering. Some doctors are worried that direct-to-consumer advertising is aimed at people who may be unable to make informed decisions about other treatments or options that are available.

And are all health groups worried?

Some groups say they can see the potential advantage for sufferers. The Primary Care Rheumatology Society, for example, believes that pharma firms putting forward balanced opinions and information about side-effects will be of real benefit to patients.

What is the pharma industry doing to allay concerns?

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents most manufacturers of branded OTC medicines, has created some guidelines. These include the idea that ads must be unambiguous and must make it clear when drugs need to be taken with clinical advice.

Will the medical establishment still have misgivings?

The guidelines were drawn up in consultation with health professionals, patient groups and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, so they do carry some weight. But PROs will still have to work hard to convince doctors that this is a real breakthrough in patient empowerment.

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