Do teens hear what we hear? FDA aims to find out in study of acne, ADHD ads

Acne remedies and ADHD drugs are big markets for the teen demographic--but how exactly are young consumers interpreting advertisements for these products? A soon-to-launch FDA study aims to find out exactly that.

Worried that teens and young adults might be less affected by the risk of drug side effects, the agency said last fall that it planned a study to see whether they interpreted drug advertisements differently than adults. The FDA is especially worried by one serious risk that can come with acne and ADHD meds: suicidal ideation.

The study will divide participants into four age groups, to determine which demographic slices might need ramped-up attention to drug risks. Each participant will respond to a web-based promotional campaign, for either a fictitious ADHD medication or a fictitious acne medication. The study plans are waiting on approval from the Office of Management and Budget.

ADHD drug marketing has run into its fair share of criticism already. Critics argue that ads for the drugs fuel overdiagnosis, and there's no doubt that a growing share of U.S. kids have been tagged with ADHD. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 3.5 million U.S. kids are on ADHD meds now, up from 600,000 in 1990. It doesn't help that the FDA has cited every major ADHD drug--Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, Intuniv, Strattera--for false and misleading advertising since 2000, as The New York Times recently reported.

Meanwhile, some acne medications have come under the spotlight for safety reasons. A New Jersey jury recently ordered Roche ($RHHBY) to pay $1.5 million to a woman who developed bowel disease after using its Accutane acne remedy. And in France, regulators pulled a hormonal acne remedy, Bayer's Diane 35, off the market after four patients died. European Union watchdogs later backed the drug, but only for its on-label use as an acne-fighter; some doctors had been prescribing it as a contraceptive.

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