As one of the many physicians who has seen patients harmed by misleading television advertisements, I urge policymakers to make this the year they rein in “bad drug” ads.
Almost everyone who watches television or listens to the radio knows these ads.
They use terms like “medical alert” or “health warning” to grab the viewer’s attention. Then they spew misinformation about FDA-approved medications.
Sometimes these ads are made to look like they are government-sponsored public safety announcements. But they are not issued by the government, and they don’t promote safe decisions.
Steering Patients in the Wrong Direction
Far too often, these deceptive ads lead people, particularly seniors, to stop taking effective medications that are used to treat chronic conditions.
Some patients with diabetes, for example, take GLP-1 receptor agonists to increase their insulin production. The medication can also help with weight management. It’s safe and effective when used correctly, yet it’s become a focus of “bad drug” ads. SGLT2 inhibitors, which are used to lower blood sugar, have also been targeted.
Both medications are used to control symptoms of serious illness. In short, they save lives. The risk of not staying on their prescribed drug regimen is far more dangerous to patients’ health than the very rare side effects highlighted by alarmist ads.
Nearly six in 10 physicians reported treating at least one patient who stopped taking a prescribed medication without consulting them after seeing advertising. That’s dangerous, and it underscores the urgent need for more transparency and a public policy solution.
Who’s Behind the Ads?
The ads are primarily sponsored by out of state legal networks who are looking to cash in on class-action lawsuits. When patients call the number on the screen, their health information is collected by aggregators who then sell it to select groups of attorneys for litigation.
Preying on patients’ fears is big business. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on these ads, so you can imagine how much profit they generate.
These bad apples scare patients into not taking their physician-prescribed medications.
Speaking Out for Safety
In Florida and around the country, there will be legislation introduced this year that would create commonsense reforms for “bad drug” ads. For the safety of our patients, it’s important for health care providers to speak out in support of these bills.
In the meantime, health care providers must remain diligent about keeping open the lines of communication with patients, so they can get the facts about their prescriptions from a medical expert, not a profit-driven attorney.