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Pharmaceutical companies are targeting patients

TV viewers are right if they are feeling bombarded by commercials. Drug company advertising aimed at ordinary people instead of doctors tripled in the U.S. between 1996 and 2000 to nearly $2.5 billion a year. Advertisements targeting consumers account for 15% of U.S. spending to promote medications, up from almost 9% in 1996.//

Spending that targets doctors - including visits from sales representatives, free samples and medical journal ads - decreased from 91% to 84% during the same period. They analyzed data on media advertising and sales of individual drugs, examining trends since 1996, the year before the Food and Drug Administration issued rules for television ads on prescription drugs.

Critics argue that drug ads aimed at ordinary people encourage use of expensive, sometimes unnecessary medicines, appeal to patients' emotions, undermine the doctor-patient relationship and rarely tell patients about the drugs' success rate, alternative treatments and other key information.

The pharmaceutical industry argues the ads inform and educate consumers, prompt many to see their doctor about an untreated health problem and prod others to take their prescription drugs more faithfully. Sixty percent of the print and broadcast ads were for just 20 medications, including the arthritis drugs Vioxx and Celebrex, the ulcer drug Prilosec, Viagra for impotence and the allergy drugs Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec.

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