Amid mounting criticism of
advertising drugs directly to consumers, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Tuesday
that it would not promote any of its new medicines directly to patients for at
least a year.
It is believed to be the first company to make such a
promise, but many drug makers have been changing the tenor of their advertising
in response to rising complaints from doctors, patients and lawmakers about the
amount and accuracy of the advertising. The pharmaceutical industry is working
on a voluntary code of conduct for drug ads that could be released as early as
"Based on feedback from patients and
doctors we are changing our policy," Bristol-Myers spokesman Brian Henry said.
"People have said there is too much consumer advertising and there isn't enough
As part of its new advertising policy, Bristol-Myers said it
would communicate both the risk and benefits of drugs in ways patients could
understand. Henry added that the new policy would respect the role of doctors
but avoid the problem of patients seeking drugs before physicians fully
understand the product.
Bristol-Myers will market the new products to
doctors and develop consumer ads about the conditions the medicines treat.
Advertisements will also include, when appropriate, information about programs
that assist patients who can't afford medicines.
Henry wouldn't comment
on whether the policy could put its drugs at a disadvantage to competitors or
how it might affect the products' sales. Two months ago, New York-based
Bristol-Myers launched a drug for hepatitis B, a virus that damages the liver.
It has a diabetes treatment and rheumatoid arthritis medicines that are expected
to be reviewed by regulators this year.
A study released this year by
the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 18% of consumers believe that drug ads
can be trusted "most of the time." That's down by almost half since 1997, when
one-third of people surveyed said ads could be trusted most of the time.
Criticism of drug ads has become particularly acute since Vioxx, the
Merck & Co. pain reliever, was withdrawn from the market last year after a
study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and strokes. Vioxx was very
heavily advertised, and critics say the commercials pushed people to ask for a
medicine most really didn't need.
Since then there has been a shift in
For example, a commercial for Ortho Evra, a birth control pill
made by a unit of Johnson & Johnson, features a frank discussion between a
woman and her doctor about potential side effects. Meanwhile, TAP Pharmaceutical
Products Inc. pulled nearly $100 million in television advertising for its
heartburn drug Prevacid this year to focus on print media that it hopes will
better explain the drug's potential side effects.
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