Viewpoint – Inaccuracy in drug ads erodes customer trust

By JW McNay/campus editor

They can make you feel happy, depressed, tired, sleepless, constipated and everything in between. All too familiar are the often comical side effects that are listed as a part of every prescription drug commercial. But this is no laughing matter.

Direct-to-consumer drug ads in the U.S. need to go away, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon considering the money involved. 

In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $5 billion annually on direct-to-consumer advertising in the U.S. This should come as no surprise as Americans spent over $300 billion on prescription drugs in 2016 alone, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Directly advertising drugs to average people is a questionable practice because suggestions for medications should strictly come from a doctor.

A health care provider is the best source of information about the right medicines, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s website. The FDA regulates advertising for prescription drugs in the U.S.

Drugs do play an important part in improving the lives of many people, and not every drug is advertised.

Prescription drug advertisements can provide useful information for consumers to work with their health care providers to make wise decisions about treatment, according to the FDA.

The federal agency offers examples of correct and incorrect product claims in what appears to acknowledge that drug ads can be misleading.

If an ad is deemed to be false or misleading, the FDA is likely to only send a warning letter to the company. Further enforcement actions are rare.

Weak enforcement won’t deter drug companies from questionable practices because they are focused on making money. The reward is far greater than the risk as some companies have been fined millions and even billions of dollars in the past and are still standing.

The practice of drug companies paying money to doctors is also questionable. If someone distrusts drug companies, this surely complicates matters when deciding to trust a doctor.

It’s a shame though because people shouldn’t look for reasons to avoid  going to the doctor or taking their medicine.