5 On Your Side

False advertising? The FDA may allow drug companies to do just that

Posted March 20

— Drug companies may soon be given the "okay" from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promote their medicines for conditions other than those they're meant to treat.

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars advertising their drugs. Right now, those commercials are only allowed to promote a drug's use to treat conditions already approved by the FDA.

Despite these advertising restrictions, it's still legal -- and common -- for doctors and healthcare providers to prescribe medicines for uses not approved by the FDA.

In fact, according to a 2006 study, one out of every five prescriptions is written that way by doctors. If put in place, the FDA's new rule could make advertisements for medicines dangerous and misleading, adding even more risk to an already dangerous trend.

Ellen Kunes, a medical advisor from Consumer Reports, is concerned. "This could be confusing to consumers, and our research shows most people don't even want it," she said.

Even more troubling, another study shows drugs prescribed this way often lack strong scientific evidence to support a use that's not FDA-approved.

"People who get a prescription from their doctor for a drug that's not approved to treat their condition may be at a higher risk of side effects and other serious problems," said Kunes.

Experts at Consumer Reports suggest that, when prescribed a new medication, patients ask their doctors whether it's approved for their condition.

If the answer is no, ask why it is being recommended.

Patients wondering what their prescriptions are approved by the FDA to treat can visit the National Institute of Health's DailyMed website, search for their drug and then click "Indications & Usage" to see whether their condition is listed. If the consideration of this new rule concerns you, share your opinions on the Consumers Union website.

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  • Stacie Hagwood Mar 23, 1:49 p.m.
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    They shouldn't be allowed to advertise at all...except to the medical profession. No wonder Rx is outrageously expensive.