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Report Shows Big Pharma Spending More than Ever

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In drug-related personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs often claim that manufacturers engage in aggressive marketing tactics that overstate the benefits of their products while glossing over the potential risks.

Such tactics encourage patients to ask their doctors about prescriptions that may or may not be right for them. In some cases, the advertising goes beyond aggressive marketing tactics to illegal ones. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), for instance, advertised their anti-nausea d rug Zofran for the treatment of morning sickness when the drug had never been tested in pregnant women or FDA-approved for that use. (GSK was later fined billions of dollars for that move.)

Now, a new report by Advertising Age suggest that these marketing claims are substantiated by fact. Total spending rose in all marketing categories, but the biggest gains were in pharmaceuticals, with manufacturers spending 15.6 percent more last year than they had the year before.

Pharmaceutical Companies Spending More on Drug Advertisements

According to the report, total U.S. spending for the top 200 advertisers reached record levels in 2015: $142.5 billion. Pharmaceutical advertising experienced the biggest growth in spending, followed by travel and apparel. Among the 200 advertisers studied, five of the 10 with the biggest growth in spending were pharmaceutical companies.

As an example, the report mentioned Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, which spent $126 million advertising their cancer drug, Opdivo, last year. The company generated $823 million as a result. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International came in at number five, while GSK was number six, spending $948 million in 2015.

Much of the spending went to television ads as usual, but companies are also expanding into digital areas, including websites and social media sites.

AMA Calls for Ban on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising for Prescription Drugs

News about increases in spending comes just as concerned health groups are advocating for a ban on direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs and medical devices. Last November, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for an advertising ban because of what they perceive to be the negative impact of this type of promotion.

The ads drive demand for expensive treatments when there may be other effective and less costly alternatives for patients. Advertisements play a role in fueling escalating drug prices, said AMA Board Chair-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., and may increase demand for more expensive drugs even when they may not appropriate.

“The United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs,” the AMA stated in a press release. According to the AMA, restricting advertising would help control the ever-skyrocketing prices of these medications.

Pharmacists Also Want Direct-to-Consumer Ads Stopped

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) agrees that there needs to be a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs. According to their press release published in June 14, 2016, the ASHP approved a policy stating the following:

“To advocate that Congress ban direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs and medication-containing devices.” The organization noted that pharmaceutical companies have drastically increased spending on these ads—more than they’ve increased spending on research and development—and that such advertising has resulted in increased drug spending.

They concluded that pharmacists have long been “the leaders in recommending and initiating evidence-based medication therapies” and in helping patients to find the best and most cost-effective medications for themselves. “ASHP believes that medication education provided by pharmacists and other providers as part of a provider-patient relationship is a much more effective way to make patients aware of available therapies, rather than relying on direct-to-consumer advertising.”