Not as seen on TV: FTC slaps law firms for 'deceptive' ads seeking pharma injury plaintiffs

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The FTC threatened action against TV ad makers over deceptive personal injury claims about certain drugs. (Pixabay)

We've all seen the scary-sounding ads that solicit clients for personal injury lawsuits against drugmakers. Obviously, pharma doesn't love them—and apparently neither does the Federal Trade Commission. The agency warns that those ads might be doling out deceptive information about the meds they’re targeting.

The FTC threatened action in letters sent to seven “legal practitioners and lead generators” for TV ads that could present misleading information about drug side effects and give viewers the false impression that those drugs had been recalled. The letter recipients and the specific TV ads weren’t identified in an FTC release.

The ads not only presented misleading information on certain drugs but also gave the impression the ads were government-sponsored, the agency said.

“The letters also highlight lawsuit ads that open with sensational warnings or alerts, which may initially mislead consumers into thinking they are watching a government-sanctioned medical alert or public service announcement,” the commission said. “The letters remind the recipients that advertisements promoting goods or services should be identifiable as advertising from the beginning.”

RELEASE: In another misstep for Vivus, FDA's promo police ding misleading Qsymia webpage

The FTC warnings represent a new front in the U.S. government’s battle against false advertising in pharma that is usually reserved for drugmakers themselves.

In a recent case, the FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) clamped down on Vivus in June for a webpage marketing its struggling obesity drug Qsymia.

On the offending page, Vivus offered misleading messages and omitted key information about Qsymia, the FDA said. The FDA also dinged Vivus for omitting the “material information” that Qsymia is approved only as an add-on to diet and exercise.

RELATED: FDA's promotional police slap Sanofi, Celgene for 'misleading' TV ads

In a larger case from 2016, the FDA slapped both Sanofi and Celgene with untitled letters for television ads promoting Toujeo and Otezla that the agency said made “false or misleading representations about the risks associated with” the drugs, a violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. At the time, Sanofi said it would pull the offending ads and Celgene announced it would work with the FDA to tweak Otezla’s marketing.

In June, an FDA spokeswoman said the agency’s ODPD had a history of knocking other pharma brands, including Bayer's Yaz (2008), Eli Lilly's Strattera (2005), GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil (2004), and Amgen's Enbrel (2005).