Presidential candidate John Edwards (D-NC) believes that advertising is one of the reasons the cost of pharmaceuticals is rising so quickly, and is calling for a two-year moratorium on marketing after a new prescription drug is introduced to the market. A similar proposal was excised from a bill earlier this year. Edwards says spending on these ads has risen from about 1B to 4B in the ten years since advertising rules have been relaxed, and charges that the people paying the freight are the end users.
Edwards claims that twice as much is now spent on marketing than is on research and development; that the drugs with the most profit potential are the ones that get a big push; that in some cases the drugs have not been proven to be safe; and that the ads are rarely reviewed before airing by the FDA.
In addition to a two year moratorium on advertising, he wants all initial ad flights to be pre-approved by the FDA, and he wants to impose serious penalties for drug companies found to have stretched the truth. He said doctors, not ads, should be the major influence in what drugs are used by American consumers.
RBR/TVBR observation: The bill passed by Congress this year did away with the proposed three year moratorium written into an early draft of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, courtesy of bipartisan team Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Steve Buyer (R-IN), who introduced a bill passed by a healthy 23-9 margin. In part, the reason is that in many cases, ads for a new drug can make consumers aware of symptoms they would otherwise fail to seek treatment for, providing an educational benefit. The bill did provide for punishment if a company goes over the line with its claims or promotes a product that turns out to be unsafe. Perhaps if we saw more remedies for serious conditions being marketed, rather than elective preparations, calls such as Edwards’ would be toned down. In the end, it reminds us of the wisdom of former NAB honcho Eddie Fritts, who always says that in Washington there are now permanent losses and no permanent victories. Amen.