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Direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs: abuse and confusion

By definition, and as long experience has proved, pharmaceutical companies cannot provide impartial information on their products. They advertise them.

Patients have an undeniable right to information on health, disease and the various treatments available. It is a matter of enabling patients to participate in the decisions concerning their care as fully as possible.

This right to information is used by some to defend pharmaceutical companies' right to advertise prescription drugs directly to consumers.

And yet, in the countries where this right currently exists, there is a very strong temptation to turn back the clock. In New Zealand, a public consultation on the issue has been launched, following the publication of alarming results on the damaging consequences of such advertising for patients. In the USA, pharmaceutical companies have been forced to adopt a code of conduct for this type of advertising, to try to reassure the many politicians who were threatening to bring back a total ban.

In Europe, confusion is at a peak. The European Commission and pharmaceutical companies are seeking to overturn a massive vote by the European Parliament against consumer advertising.

Patients need reliable drug information that is suited to their needs. Pharmaceutical companies have demonstrated time and time again their inability to provide impartial information on their own products.

©Prescrire November 2006

Source: "Publicité grand public pour les médicaments de prescription : abus et confusion" Rev Prescrire 2006 ; 26 (277) : 777-778.

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