Prescription Drug Advertising


The New Epidemic
A short film about Motivational Deficiency disorder

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Pushing 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.