Consumers diss DTC ads again, and they don't like speedier FDA nods, either: Survey


Another week, another survey dissing pharma ads. This time, respondents had upfront pros and cons to inform their answers. And 57% of consumers still said drug ads should be removed from TV.

Harvard’s school of public health paired with Stat to gauge public opinion of two current issues: direct-to-consumer drug ads, which have drawn renewed fire in recent months; and the pace of drug approvals, which would be accelerated under the 21st Century Cures Act approved by the House of Representatives and similar measures being discussed in the Senate.

The result: a thumbs-down for both.

The poll first explained the opposing perspectives on drug ads. It posited that on one hand, some believe pharma shouldn’t be allowed to advertise on TV because “ads sometimes encourage patients to ask for costlier drugs that may not be appropriate for them.” However, on the other hand, TV ads for drugs “make patients more informed about their treatment options.”

With that backdrop, 57% of U.S. adults said prescription drug ads should be removed from TV.

“The 57% is also not surprising given the false impression that DTC raises their prices,” said Bob Ehrlich, chairman-CEO of DTC Perspectives. “It seems people think drug ads, because of the side effect listings, are a strange type of ads. My net is that people who suffer from a disease like to see the ads for their disease. Clearly many non-sufferers find an ad for erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness annoying.”

The American Medical Association voted in November to ban drug advertising.

The survey also asked people whether they had considered taking a drug after they saw it advertised on TV. Just 7% answered yes. That’s the same percentage recently found by Treato with a similar question in its second annual patient view study. Treato's question asked whether consumers asked their doctors about a drug after seeing it in a TV ad.

The 7% Treato finding this year reflected a steep drop from last year’s survey, when 21% said they had asked a doctor about a televised ad. Of those who did consider a televised drug in the Harvard survey, 76% said the possible risks or side effects were clearly explained.

“Whether or not the public likes or doesn’t like DTC advertising may have an effect on where politicians come out on it, but it doesn’t change at all the First Amendment question as to whether or not it’s protected advertising,” said Clark Rector, senior VP at the American Advertising Federation.

"We certainly think on balance it plays a very helpful role," Rector went on. "People can’t go out and buy the drugs on their own; they’ve got to go and talk to a doctor. If they go and talk to a doctor because of an ad, even though they may not get or need that drug, it can only be a good thing to get that conversation started.”

Referring specifically to the speedier market approval for drugs included in 21st Century Cures, the Harvard/Stat survey explained that drugs can take about 10 years before they’re available to the public. Proposed changes in government rules would make new drugs available faster, the survey pointed out, although some people say speeding up the process increases the risks that drugs that are less effective or have harmful side effects are approved. With that background, 58% said they would oppose speeding up the process.

Ehrlich said, “The answer on speeding drug approval is what I would expect. People do not want to generally trade off safety for speed."

But, Ehrlich added, "I think risk tolerance is condition-dependent. A question on a drug for a life-threatening condition would get a different answer. A drug for cholesterol would have a different risk/speed answer than for terminal cancer.”

- read the survey

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