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Federal Trade Commission Stands with Patients on “Bad Drug” Ads

For years, patients have been misled by “bad drug” ads that frighten them into abandoning their prescription medications.  Now the Federal Trade Commission is speaking out.

For the first time, the commission has warned the law firms and aggregators sponsoring such ads that their practices may be “deceptive” and “unfair.”  Calling the ads “potentially unlawful,” the FTC has identified certain standards for law firms or third parties creating the ads, asking them to:

  1. Include “clear and prominent” instruction that consumers should not stop taking their medications without first consulting their doctors
  2. Have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” behind their claims about a given drug
  3. Identify the ads as advertisements, so patients do not mistake them for public safety announcements from a government entity.

As the FTC notes, some patients have discontinued their medication after seeing a “bad drug” ad and experienced adverse events as a result.  In a 2018 survey by the Partnership to Protect Patient Health, more than half of health care providers reported having a patient who’s discontinued medication, without consulting the doctor, after seeing a “bad drug” ad.  

The ads, often targeted at senior citizens, are designed to generate class action and personal injury lawsuits.  They often single out blood thinners, diabetes drugs and medications for blood pressure, the FTC notes.

While the FTC’s action is an encouraging step, states aren’t waiting for federal action on the issue.  Several states have already begun addressing patient safety by establishing rules and regulations about “bad drug” ads.  Tennessee and Texas, for example, both passed legislation this year to reform medical lawsuit advertising and protect patients.  Legislators in Kentucky and West Virginia have also taken up the issue. Given the FTC’s attention to these advertisements, more states may now follow suit in adopting commonsense policies that protect patients.