Ban proposed for ads for drugs and medical gadgets

Studies are routinely hand-picked to make drugs seem more effective than they are, television constantly tells you to take drugs, and doctors prescribing drugs get kickbacks from phamaceutical companies. Maybe it's time to knock out one of these three problems for good.

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs and medical devices. Such ads drive demand and costs for expensive name-brand treatments when those drugs may not be appropriate or when clinically effective, low-cost options are available, the doctors group said. The announcement is part of a larger effort by the association to make prescription drugs more affordable.

From the statement:

"Today's vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices," said AMA Board Chair-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A. "Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

The U.S. and New Zealand are reportedly the only two countries that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription-only medication. There's a patent-abuse problem, too:

New AMA policy responds to deepened concerns that anticompetitive behavior in a consolidated pharmaceutical marketplace has the potential to increase drug prices. The AMA will encourage actions by federal regulators to limit anticompetitive behavior by pharmaceutical companies attempting to reduce competition from generic manufacturers through manipulation of patent protections and abuse of regulatory exclusivity incentives.

The AMA will also monitor pharmaceutical company mergers and acquisitions, as well as the impact of such actions on drug prices. Patent reform is a key area for encouraging greater market-based competition and new AMA policy will support an appropriate balance between incentives for innovation on the one hand and efforts to reduce regulatory and statutory barriers to competition as part of the patent system.

Vox remind us, however, that —that doctors, not consumers, are the soft target.

direct-to-consumer advertising is only a small part of how pharma tries to drum up demand for its products. The overwhelming majority of drug company marketing is actually targeted at doctors themselves. This persuasion mainly comes in the form of "detailing": face-to-face promotional meetings between pharma representatives and doctors (which are basically sales pitches on new products), as well as taking doctors to meals and giving them gifts.