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Misleading Advertisements for Prescription Drugs

In direct-to-consumer advertisements of prescription drugs, statements about drug benefits are often overblown and misleading. "These advertisements rarely quantify the medications' expected benefit; instead, they make an emotional appeal," Dr. Steven Woloshin from Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, New Hampshire. //

Instead of telling the consumer how likely it is that the medicine is going to prevent some outcome, these advertisement often use vague qualitative messages, such as "Try it, it works," or "Take the drug and be there for your future," he said.

Dr. Woloshin and colleagues did a content analysis of 67 direct-to consumer prescription drug advertisements that collectively appeared 211 times in 10 consumer magazines in the US over a year's time. The ads "not only targeted symptom relief but also treatment and prevention of disease," Dr. Woloshin noted. Sixty-three percent were for drugs that relieve symptoms, 26% for drugs to treat disease and 11% for drugs to prevent disease.

He pointed out that proponents of direct-to-consumer drug ads argue that the ads help educate consumers about treatment options and increase the awareness of the consequence of disease. Dr. Woloshin's group proposes that the US Food and Drug Administration mandate a standard format for summarizing the information about a drug in advertisements.


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