Up to 60 percent of drug ads on TV are misleading

U.S. consumers should be very wary when they watch advertisements for pharmaceutical products.

According to a study published in the prestigious Journal of General Internal Medicine, up to 60 percent of the claims in TV drug ads may mislead the viewer.

The number of misleading claims made on consumer-targeted prescription and non-prescription drug advertisements which appear on late night TV was described as “overwhelming”.

For the past decade policymakers and researchers have discussed the issue of drug advertising on TV, which allegedly result in people taking medications they do not need.

One of the lead researchers of the study, Adrienne E. Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, said:

“Healthcare consumers need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health, but these TV drug ads had misleading statements that omitted or exaggerated information. These results conflict with arguments that drug ads are helping inform consumers.”

The study analyzed the Vanderbilt TV News Archive, which includes all nightly news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC since 1968 and on CNN since 1992. The researchers specifically examined advertisements that appeared at the 6:30 pm EST period.

A total of 168 TV advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter drugs aired between 2008 and 2010 were analyzed by the researchers, who tried to identify any claims that were strongly emphasized in the ad.

A group of experts then analyzed these claims and determined whether they were truthful, potentially misleading, or outright false.

10 percent of these claims were found to be false or unsubstantiated – it is a crime to make false ads.

However, what shocked the researchers even more was the number of potentially misleading claims the ads made.

60 percent of the claims made by these ads either lacked information, made meaningless associations with lifestyles, or exaggerated their claim.

The majority of the misleading or false claims were for over-the-counter drugs.

60 percent of prescription drug ad claims and 80 percent of OTC drug ad claims were misleading or false.

Prescription drug advertising is overseen by the The Food and Drug Administration, while the Federal Trade Commission oversees nonprescription drug advertising.

The two bodies have different requirements for drug advertisements. The FDA ensures that side effects and risks of the medication are included in prescription drug advertisements. The harms associated with many OTC drugs are often left out of ads.

Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute, said:

“Healthcare consumers need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health. Consumers may see up to 30 hours of television drug advertising each year, while only spending 15 to 20 minutes, on average, at each visit with their primary care physician.”