Do you think the aggressive drug advertising should be curtailed? Why or why not? If so, what limits would you impose?
Merck spent more than $500 million on commercials proclaiming the virtues of Vioxx, only to have it revealed to be a risky remedy for arthritis. The pharmaceutical industry had discovered the effectiveness of advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers instead of the medical profession. By barraging consumers with the benefits of such drugs, drug companies hoped that many would either demand these prescriptions or at least express strong interest to their doctors—and this proved to be very effective marketing. Often these heavily advertised brands became blockbusters, generating billions of dollars for their drug companies. Over the past decade, pharmaceutical advertising exploded to become the 10th largest advertising category in the United States. The ads had become increasingly aggressive as drug companies promoted their products as hip, using imagery similar to that for soda, sneakers, and cars—for example, having pert women pitching erectile-dysfunction drugs. The debate over whether such marketing was appropriate had raged for years, but nothing deterred the new order of things. In 2003, expenditures for prescription-drug ads jumped 24 percent to $3.21 billion. Meanwhile, ad spending on transportation and tourism rose only 0.2 percent.
Merck’s removal of Vioxx from the marketplace reopened criticisms about the efficacy and tone of direct-to-consumer drug advertising. ?oThe advertising and promotions played a major role in making people think Vioxx was safer and more effective than it is, and safer than other drugs and treatments for arthritis and pain,?? said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. Another cause for concern as advertising stimulated demand quickly for new drugs was that millions of people would become users before any serious side effects could be discovered. Thereby, many more people would be exposed to risks, as they were with Vioxx. But it is doubtful that Merck’s recall will induce drug makers to voluntarily retreat from their increasingly aggressive advertising stance.