TV viewers are right if they are feeling barraged by commercials for the likes of Vioxx, Prilosec, Claritin and Viagra: Drug company advertising aimed at ordinary people instead of doctors tripled in the United States between 1996 and 2000 to nearly $2.5 billion a year.
Advertisements targeting consumers account for 15 percent of U.S. spending to promote medications, up from almost 9 percent in 1996, a study found.
Spending that targets doctors -- including visits from sales representatives, free samples and medical journal ads -- slipped from 91 percent to 84 percent during the same period, according to researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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.
The study appeared in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Critics such as Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen Health Research Group 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 empower consumers, prompt many to see their doctor about an untreated health problem and nudge others to take their prescription drugs more faithfully.
The researchers found the biggest jump has been in TV commercials, with a seven-fold increase in spending -- from $220 million to $1.6 billion -- between 1996 and 2000.
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