Does anyone like prescription drug ads on TV? We've taken several informal, unscientific polls and discovered that no one we know seems to like commercials about erectile dysfunction, overactive bladder or prostate enlargement.

Most people we ask express annoyance at best and outrage at worst. Parents have complained that some ads give rise to uncomfortable questions from young children.

There are only two countries in the industrialized world that permit this sort of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs: The United States and New Zealand. The European Union expressly forbids this kind of promotion.

Congress recently contemplated restrictions on such drug ads. Legislators considered giving the FDA power to restrict advertising for drugs that have serious safety concerns.

They were encouraged to do so by a report issued last year by the prestigious Institute of Medicine. The scientists recommended that the FDA should require a special warning symbol for new medications during their first two years on the market and prohibit DTC promotion during that time.

Instead of beefing up oversight, though, Congress only gave the FDA the right to review ads before they are aired. The agency can make recommendations for changes, but has no authority to actually require ad agencies to redo commercials.

What happened on the way to the big vote? Pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies and media lobbyists all objected to tougher regulations on drug ads. More than $5 billion was spent on prescription drug advertising in 2006.

Television broadcasters and magazine publishers have come to rely on this revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, pharmaceuticals were the 10th biggest advertiser in 2006 and growing fast. Nobody wants to kill or even slow down the goose that is laying so many golden eggs.

The media lobby worked hard to convince Congressmen that drug ads provide valuable information for consumers. They also portrayed commercials on TV as a free speech issue. Under such lobbying pressure, legislators caved.

One reason the pharmaceutical industry keeps spending so much on advertising to consumers is that it works. People who see ads for Vytorin to lower cholesterol, Lunesta to counter insomnia and Boniva to build bones often ask their doctors for a prescription.

Even though doctors may not like having patients request specific drugs, they frequently go along with the program and write a prescription. Although consumers may complain about having to watch people in bathtubs waiting for their Cialis moment, for example, many viewers are obviously following instructions to ask their doctors for a prescription for a medicine they see on TV.

Consumers seemingly ignore the list of potentially serious side effects that are often read quickly while the onscreen picture shows someone having fun. Warnings about drug-induced complications such as severe heartburn, cataracts, glaucoma, osteoporosis, hemorrhage or even heart attack don't seem to faze viewers.

Next time you find yourself watching a commercial for a prescription medication, ask yourself whether the information is really helpful. If not, perhaps it is time to exercise your own first amendment right to free speech and tell your legislators what you think about DTC ads.


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  1. mary

    regarding the erectile dysfunction ads, I’m so irked.. I’m an adult married with adult children. I have an understanding of these issues, however, if you have a problem, you know it and should see your doctor. these advertisements are so offensive considering all who have to tolerate watching them. insensitive to many. with all the problems and serious illnesses in the world, i guess someone decided the world will be better as long as every old man is walking around with an erection.

  2. EK

    I don’t want medical ads on TV. I googled this and found this site. What I want to know, since we all want them stopped is, what can we do about it?

  3. Penny

    I don’t want to see TV ads about drugs and products relating to personal bodily functions. I find them offensive and disgusting. They should never have been permitted in the first place and should be outlawed, that is, if and when our legislators can find the courage to stand up to lobbyists and the big money influence of the pharmaceutical industry.

  4. J.Grady

    I hate those ads and we will not use any of those drugs that are advertized. If everyone did the same maybe those ads would stop. Any drugs we do take have to be on the market at least five years. By then they have a better safety record.

  5. DS

    I too am disgusted with the advertising of medicines on TV. It seems most of them are for erectile dysfunction. One can’t watch TV in mixed company anymore. Also, they say the side effects so fast, most people (especially the elderly) wouldn’t be able to process the information.

  6. Louise Austin

    I am totally disgusted by drug advertising on TV. It is wasteful and demoralizing to our society, on a par with cigarette and tobacco as well as liquor advertising. Somehow we were able to eliminate the latter; why not the former?
    Our FDA seems to be unequal to the task. There has to be some way of eliminating drug advertising. Doctors should be the ones to decide who needs medication, not patients.

  7. AM

    I find many of these commercials to be totally inappriopiate at times. My kids and I are watching TV when suddenly we get a commercial for Cialis or erectile dysfunctrion.
    I am also fed up with all these intials! DVT… RLS? Who on earth ever heard of restless leg syndrome? Are they for real?
    What next–AIW for age induced wrinkles?

  8. CAB

    You wrote: “Warnings about drug-induced complications … don’t seem to faze viewers.”
    I believe one reason for this is that people tend to believe in “the system.” We tend to trust that the FDA is safeguarding the public from dangerous drugs, so we tune out when they list the drug’s side effects. Perhaps our trust is misplaced.

  9. Ellen Lee

    As a registered nurse, I am concerned about the impact on the lay public of media commercials and advertisements of prescription drugs. Viewers/readers are encouraged to ask their physicians if the drugs “are right” for them, which seems to be interpreted as an invitation to ask physicians to prescribe the drugs. Too many physicians are caving in. Yesterday, I saw a series of ads for surgically implanted orthopedic devices, with links to names of physicians who are using them. Frankly, I loathe ads for physicians and attorneys, as well as for prescription drugs.

  10. Grace S. Jones

    I see ads for prescription drugs as totally wasteful and useless. No matter how good the commercial, you cannot go out and purchase a prescription drug, which is as it should be. So why the advertising? Physicians are kept abreast of new prescription drugs as they come out, and they alone can dispense them (legally). I also resent and am outraged by the money spent on these commercials at a time when prescription drugs are sold at outrageous prices… many who need them cannot afford them. The money spent on advertising should be spent on keeping the drug prices down.

  11. dms

    I think all med ads should be removed from TV and radio. It is a constant reminder of illness and the side effect lists cause fear. Meds should only be discussed between you and your doctor or pharmacist. It also gives the impression that there is a magic pill for everything. These meds are dangerous and should be carefully monitored. I feel we are doing the American public a disservice by having them on TV. Thanks.

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