Television commercials for drugs apparently should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, says a new study that found that six out of 10 claims in the ads were misleading and one in 10 was false.
Researchers analyzed 168 prescription drug ads airing between 2008 and 2010 on the nightly news, which draws a predominantly older audience and is considered a prime time for drug advertising.
They found that nearly 60 percent “had misleading statements that omitted or exaggerated information,” researcher Adrienne Faerber of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice said in a statement.
Over-the-counter drug ads were even worse: 80 percent of claims were either misleading or false.
The research, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, analyzed 84 prescription and 84 over-the-counter drug ads on nightly news broadcasts on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. There were nearly 1,000 claims that researchers identified in all of the ads.
In addition to omitting or exaggerating information, ads often relied on meaningless claims such as opinions (a celeb who says she’s using a drug “to build strong, healthy bones”) or meaningless associations with lifestyles (an ad for a once-a-year injectable drug touted “for the on-the-go woman”), the researchers wrote.
The results contradict the argument that drug commercials merely inform consumers of new drugs, rather than persuade them to ask for drugs they may not need, noted Faerber and coresearcher David Kreling of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy.
Part of the problem may be that two different government agencies oversee drug advertising, and they have different definitions of false and misleading claims.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees prescription drug advertising, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees advertising for nonprescription drugs. The FDA says prescription drug ads must include information about harmful side effects, but the FTC doesn’t require side effect info on most over-the-counter ads.
TV commercials aren’t the only guilty parties, as The Huffington Post pointed out. A 2011 study in the journal PLOS ONE showed that only 18 percent of drug ads in biomedical journals met FDA guidelines.