US prescription drug sales boosted by advertising

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 30 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:783
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Direct advertising of drugs to consumers has caused retail spending on prescriptions to soar, the National Institute for Health Care Management, an independent, non-profit making research and educational foundation based in Washington, has found.

    Last year pharmaceutical companies spent $1.8bn (£1.3bn) on “direct to consumer” advertising, mostly on television. Advertising expenditure in 1999 rose by 38.5% from the $1.3bn spent in 1998, and was 33 times the amount spent on media advertisements in 1991.

    Expenditure by drug companies on direct to consumer advertising is expected to reach $2bn this year. Prescription drugs advertised directly to consumers are now the largest and fastest selling medicines, the study found. They contributed significantly to the 19 increase in pharmaceutical spending in 1999.

    Just 25 top selling medicines promoted directly to consumers accounted for 40.7% or $7.2bn, of the overall $17.7bn increase in retail drugs spending in 1999. Heading the list was the antihistamine Claritin, manufactured by Schering-Plough, which spent $137m on advertising to drive the drug's 1999 sales up by 21% to $2.6bn.

    Doctors wrote 34.2% more prescriptions in 1999 than in 1998 for the 25 drugs promoted direct to consumers that contributed most to overall drug spending. Doctors wrote only 5.1% more prescriptions for all other prescription drugs.

    Steven Findlay, director of research and policy at the National Institute for Health Care Management and author of the study, said, “Our analysis suggests that consumer advertising could be responsible for 10% to 25% of the recent increase in prescription drug spending.

    “Other factors include the increase in insurance coverage of drugs, the ageing of the population, and the fact that more medicines are being approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”

    Jackie Cottrell, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said that advertising alerted consumers to new drugs, encouraged people to visit doctors, and provided useful information.”

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    Direct to consumer advertisements have caused spending to soar

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