Prescription Drug Advertising


The New Epidemic
A short film about Motivational Deficiency disorder

"An evidence-based mockumentary about the pharmaceutical industry's influence over health professionals, patients and the public."
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Pushing Drugs

Click on the picture to the right to watch a 45-minute documentary about how the pharmaceutical industry markets disease and drugs.

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Prescription Drug Abuse and Prescription Drug Advertising - Why We Should Be Concerned:

Key IssueRx abuse increasess

  • In October, 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in a new policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics that "drug companies, public health groups and the medical communities should have an open debate on the necessity of advertising prescription drugs."
  • Prescription drug abuse among youth and young adults is a signifcant and growing problem in the Nation.[1]
  • Many young adults think non-medical use of prescription painkillers and stimulants is safer than taking other “hard” drugs.[2]
  • Growing belief within our culture that the answer to problems lies in prescription drugs.[3]
  • There are currently limited FDA rules governing direct-to-consumer and prescription advertising. PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America) recently released its own Guiding Principals: Direct to consumer advertising of prescription medications, which is available for download here.


Why this is happening

  • Pushing drugs: advertisements normalize the use of prescription drugs to address health, mental health and behavioral problems that can often be more safely addressed through lifestyle and behavioral changes.
  • Incomplete picture of drug safety: advertisements present idealized and emotionally appealing images of people living healthy, happy lives as a result of taking a prescription drug without presenting the risks of taking the prescription in a manner that as appealling or noticable.
    • Think about it: why would any company whose primary purpuse is to earn money for its shareholders be motivated to present a complete picture of risks and benefits to consumers? This is the underlying paradox that cannot be overcome through guiding principals or regulatory legislation.
    • Did you know: According to the CDC, unintentional fatal drug overdoses nearly doubled from1999 to 2004 and are now the No. 2 cause of accidental death, after car crashes. CDC researchers believe sedatives and prescription painkillers are the chief cause of the increase (Associated Press, February 2007).
    • To view a documentary that specifically highlights additional strategies pharmaceutical companies use to market prescription drugs, click here.

Possible solutions

  • Prohibit direct to consumer prescription drug advertising.


Efficacy of prohibition – data from tobacco and alcohol

  • Alcohol: Research evidence strongly suggests “that exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing increases the likelihood of underage drinking.”[1]
  • Tobacco: “A convincing body of evidence demonstrates that tobacco advertising plays an important part in encouraging non-smokers to begin smoking. Advertising is a particularly important factor among young people. Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotion can result in a considerable reduction of tobacco consumption on a national level.”[2]


Other countries that prohibit direct-to-consumer prescription advertising

  • European Union countries prohibit direct-to-consumer advertising of prescriptions; US policy allowing this type of advertising is impacting Internet users worldwide who are exposed to pharmaceutical advertising via the Internet.[3]
  • New Zealand is the only other country in the world that allows direct-to-consumer prescription advertising. In 2006, there was a movement to ban DTC advertising in that country as well.

    [1] Join Together. (2008). Pharmaceutical companies use new media to market to teens. Retrieved 9/11/08 from

    [2] Join Together. (2008). College freshman weigh relative risks of prescription drugs. Retrieved 9/11/08 from

    [3] Ibid 9.

    [1] Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. (2008). Youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television: 2001-2007. Retrieved on 9/30/08 from

    [2] Willemsen, M. C., & de Blij, B. (n.d.). Tobacco Advertising Fact Sheet. Retrieved on 9/30/08 from

    [3] Ibid 24

    [1] Join Together. (2008). Pharmaceutical companies use new media to market to teens. Retrieved 9/11/08 from

    [2] Join Together. (2008). College freshman weigh relative risks of prescription drugs. Retrieved 9/11/08 from

    [3] Ibid 9.



    Community Resources and Web Links

    Community Resources are tools that can be used by community agencies or coalitions to prevent substance abuse.


    Advertising Campaign Resources


    Advertising Campaign Resources

    Actuality Social Norms Campaign : Resources and information about an evidence-based approach to health promotion through social norms media campaigns.

    I Strenghten My Nation: Campaign developed by Indian Health Services to help Native American youth resist alcohol and drug use.

    Osocio : Social advertising and non-profit campaigns from around the world.

    PSA Central : Browse and preview current PSA materials for Ad Council campaigns. Everything available for download or order on the site is provided free of charge.

    Alcohol Advertising and Promotion

    Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth : Research and resources related to the prevalence and impact of alcohol advertising on youth.

    Entertainment Industries Council : Suggestions for depicting drugs in media.

    The Marin Institute : Information about the Marin Institutes' research and campaigns aimed at preventing alcohol promotion and advertising that is harmful to individuals and communities.

    Underage and High Risk Drinking

    AMA Alcohol Policy Overview : Sample policies and related resources to address underage and high risk drinking.

    Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol : A community organizing effort designed to change policies and practices of major community institutions in ways that reduce access to alcohol by teenagers.

    Know Your Limits Campaign : Developed in Great Britain, this campaign provides information, tools and resources to educate the public about how much alcohol is in various types of drinks and the risks associated with high risk and binge drinking.

    Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free: This website provides resources for parents about how to talk to their children about alcohol as well as how to start conversations with other parents. regarding youth alcohol use.

    Parents Who Host Lose the Most Campaign : Public awareness campaign that educates parents about the health and safety risks of serving alcohol at teen parties and increases awareness of and compliance with the Underage Drinking Laws.

    Rethinking Drinking: A webite aimed at being a resource for anyone who drinks. alcohol. The site offers valuable, research-based information about drinking habits and how they may affect one's health.

    State Profiles of Underage Drinking Laws

    STOP Underage Drinking Portal of Federal Resources : A comprehensive portal of Federal resources for information on underage drinking and ideas for combating this issue. People interested in underage drinking prevention—including parents, educators, community-based organizations, and youth—will find a wealth of valuable information here.

    Too Smart To Start : This web site helps youth, families, educators, and communities prevent underage alcohol use and its related problems. It provides useful programs and strategies, downloadable curricula and other materials, interactive games and exercises, and other resources to support you in responding to The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking .

    Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center : Publications, news, research and training related to underage drinking prevention.

    We Don't Serve Teens Campaign : Federal Trade Commission's Campaign promoting the the efficacy and importance of the 21 Legal Drinking Age.

    Why : Offers the facts about the 21 Minimum Legal Drinking age as wells as information on how alcohol affects the teen brain, the realities of underage drinking, facts to common myths and a history of the drinking age law. There is also resources and tips for parents, educators and communities on preventing underage drinking.

    Alcohol Use & Abuse

    FACE : Resources, training and action on alcohol issues.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism : Provides publications and research information about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

    State of Drinking: Interactive map of the United States detailing the extent to which alcohol affects the culture of each state.

    Drug Courts

    Risk and Needs Triage Tool : A decision support tool for judges and other criminal justice decision makers that identifyies the risks and needs that can influence offenders' prospects for success. RANT helps match drug-involved offenders to the community corrections programs best suited to their needs for supervision and treatment.

    Environmental Prevention

    Alcohol Tax CalculatorMarin Institute has released an online alcohol tax and fee calculator to assist lawmakers looking for new revenue. The program works for every state. Just enter the amount of new tax for beer, wine or spirits (or any combination) and the program instantly estimates additional annual revenues based on factors specific to the specified jurisdiction.

    CADCA's Policy Change Toolbox : Provides coalitions with a catalog of environmental policy changes implemented at the local level by community anti-drug coalitions from all over the United States. The toolbox supplies the user with a directory of unique and specific local ordinances, policies, and regulations that community anti-drug coalitions have worked to enact, and a description of the steps taken by coalitions to make these changes occur.

    Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest : Resources, tools and guidelines for non-profits interested in political advocacy.

    Center for the Science in the Public Interest: CSPI helps focus public and decision-maker attention on high-leverage policy reforms to reduce the consequences of drinking. The website provides resources to help "promote a comprehensive, prevention-oriented approach to the role of alcohol in society by addressing alcohol advertising, excise taxes, changes in product labeling, and other population-based policy reforms." It includes fact sheets, publications and other resources regarding alcohol-related policy change.

    Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) : Information, resources and tools for substance abuse prevention coalitions.

    Drug Free Workplace Materials : US Department of Labor resources and tools for workplace substance abuse prevention.

    Enforcement Resources : Resources for law enforcement compiled by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

    National Social Norms Institute : Research about social norms and substance abuse.

    PIRE Prevention Research Center: Provides research about the social and physical environments that influence individual behavior that leads to alcohol and drug use.

    "Working with students to address alcohol at public events - A guide"


    Drug Slang Dictionary

    National Drug Intelligence Center Map s: Dynamic maps that show the greatest drug threat to regions across the Nation.

    Methamphetamine Abuse

    Meth 360 : Training, tools and resources for community presentations about meth.

    Native American Anti-Meth Posters : View and order posters designed by a Native American woman for Native communities to use to prevent Meth abuse.



    Find Youth Info : "This website offers Federally-developed interactive tools and other resources to help community organizations and partnerships in their efforts to support youth. Included are tools and resources to help form effective partnerships, assess community assets, understand risk factors and protective factors, generate maps of local and Federal resources, and search for evidence-based youth programs."

    Blueprints for Violence Prevention : Research-based programs for substance abuse and violence prevention.

    Communities That Care : Downloadable tools and information for coalitions interested in implementing the CTC System.

    Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs : Research-based programs for substance abuse and violence prevention.

    Promising Practices Network: Website that provides information about programs and practices proven to improve outcomes for children.

    SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices

    Prescription and Over-the Counter Drug Abuse

    Close to Home Campaign : The Close to Home Campaign website features information on opiate abuse and addiction, including a Fact Sheet for Teens and Parents and flyers that can be printed and posted in schools, organizations or workplaces.

    Disposal of Unwanted Medicines : Resources and tools for communities interested in planning and promoted a prescription return event.

    Drug Watch - Drug Watch is "a comprehensive Web site database featuring extensive information about thousands of different medications and drugs currently on the market or previously available worldwide. The website includes up-to-date information about prescription and over-the-counter medications and includes details about associated side effects to aid in the protection of patients and consumers."

    Educate Before You Medicate: This webpage provides resources for the promotion of safe prescription use and prevention of prescription abuse.

    Maximizing Your Role as a Teen Influencer - What You Can Do to Prevent Teen Prescription Drug Abuse: This online resource provides a complete workshop session and resources to educate parents, teachers, coaches, communities, school-based health care providers and others about teen prescription drug abuse and strategies to prevent it.

    MUST: A national prescription drug education campaign for older adults and their caregivers.

    Not in My House Campaign : Campaign that educates the public about how to secure, monitor and dispose of prescriptions so that they cannot be easily obtained by teens in family and friends' medicine cabinets.

    Stop Cough Medicine Abuse : This website provides information for communities, parents and teens about cough medicine abuse as well as resources to take action.


    NIDA DrugPubs Research Dissemination Center : Research publications from the National Institute on Drug Abuse which can be viewed online or ordered through the mail.

    Substance Abuse

    Foundation for a Drug Free World: Resources, information, media and tools for communities, parents and teens.

    Daily Dose : Daily and weekly substance abuse news from around the world. Includes news list serve.

    Join Together : Substance abuse news, research, resources, and advocacy opportunities. Includes list serves for funding opportunities and news/research updates.

    National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign : Resources, information, media and tools for communities, parents and teens.

    Partnership for a Drug Free America : Resources, information, media and tools for communities, parents and teens.


    Youth Leadership Institute : Information, resources and training materials for youth and adults interested in actively engaging youth in the prevention process.