Could Drug Ads Be Bad for Your Health?

ByABC News
January 29, 2007, 9:00 PM

Jan. 30, 2007 — -- Do you experience confusion? Anxiety? Feelings that your life is out of your control?

Televised advertisements for prescription drugs may be partly to blame, new research suggests.

A study published in the current issue of the journal Annals of Family Medicine examined 38 different pharmaceutical advertisements that ran during peak television viewing times. Researchers found that while the overwhelming majority of the ads made arguments for the use of drugs, only about a quarter of them described the causes of the medical conditions the drugs are designed to treat.

The study also found that emotional appeals were common, and about 85 percent emphasized regaining control over some aspect of life.

"The ads do rely almost universally on the consumers' emotions," says Dominick Frosch, lead study author and assistant professor of general internal medicine at UCLA. "Medical decisions shouldn't be about emotions. They should be on carefully weighed benefits, risks and costs."

Frosch says presenting information about the drugs in this way could also lead patients to think that they need medicine even if they really don't. This could lead to changes in the way patients and doctors communicate.

"It's really intruding onto the doctor-patient relationship," says Dr. Kurt Stange, editor of Annals of Family Medicine and professor of family medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "What the ads tend to do is take up time and energy during a visit that could otherwise be spent on things that are important to the patient."

And both Stange and Frosch say the drug ads may lead patients to demand the advertised medications from their doctors.

"Doctors in surveys have said that they have provided drugs even when the prescription wasn't appropriate," Frosch says. "If consumers were powerless in changing the views of the doctors, the pharmaceutical industry would not be spending money advertising to them. It works."