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US: Pharmaceutical Giant Will Curb Ads Aimed at Patients

Associated Press
June 15th, 2005


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 next month.

"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 balance."

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Criticism of drug ads has become particularly acute since Vioxx, the Merck & Co. pain reliever, was withdrawn from the market last year after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and strokes.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 drug ads.

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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