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TV Drug Ads Might Have to Highlight Hairy Side Effects

Regulators are considering a proposal today that would require potentially gnarly and dangerous side effects be touted as loudly as their miracle cures in pharmaceutical promotions. The FDA is considering requiring TV drug advertisements to also display a number where patients can report serious problems with their medication.

TV advertising has created a culture of savvy drug consumers who think they can prescribe drugs more adroitly than their physicians — ads have become a cornerstone of the pharmaceutical business since regulators allowed them ten years ago. Companies spent roughly $3.5 billion on spots last year. To see if consumers are capable of getting the message,


According to a Consumer Reports poll published this year, only 35 percent of consumers knew they could report drug side effects to the government. The founder of a patient advocacy group scheduled to present before the FDA today said, "If it's good enough for print, it's good enough for TV."

The group is called WoodyMatters and is named for the founder's husband, Woody, who committed suicide in 2003 while taking Pfizer's antidepressant Zoloft. Warnings about risks of suicidal behavior to all depression drugs were released the following year.

Though research shows that 80 percent of viewers can recall benefits mentioned in TV drug ads, while only 20 percent successfully recall side effects, the WoodyMatters spokeswoman says, "Any warning of a possible risk is better than not publicizing that information until it's too late for someone."

Should drugs be advertised on TV at all? Will more regulations help keep consumers safe?


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