John Edwards on Drugs—Again

In an effort to revive his doomed presidential campaign, John Edwards has produced a proposal whereby DTC drug ads would be somewhat restricted by our masters in Washington.

Kevin, MD likes this idea, and the folks at Pharmalot are apparently OK with it as well, but I have to say that I’m pretty queasy about this sort of thing. For starters, the courts have consistently ruled that advertising is protected by the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court put it in 1993:

The commercial market place, like other spheres of our social and cultural life, provides a forum where ideas and information flourish. Some of the ideas and information are vital, some of slight worth. But the general rule is that the speaker and the audience, not the government, assess the value of the information presented. Thus, even a communication that does no more than propose a commercial transaction is entitled to the coverage of the First Amendment.

And, even if the First Amendment weren’t an issue, Edwards’ rationale for this proposal is pretty weak:

You’ve seen these ads. You know who’s paying for them, right? You are …Basically, they do what they want, and they’re driving up demand for the most expensive and most profitable drugs.

Well … yes, Senator. That’s the point of advertising. If you’re going to restrict advertising for these reasons, why not curtail ads for automobiles and refrigerators as well?

I’m glad this character has very little chance of becoming President.

Comments 6

  1. Matt Horn wrote:

    I think the trial lawyers were also a part of the 1993 action. More hipocracy from the prom queen.

    Posted 30 Oct 2007 at 5:13 pm
  2. drmatt wrote:

    The first ammendment is not without limits, you cannot express something that may actually or is likely to or can be reasonably expected to cause harm. When was the last time you say a ciggarette add on the television? Do you suppose some of these medications could cause harm? Do you suppose some are likely to or can reasonably expected to?

    Posted 31 Oct 2007 at 6:20 am
  3. Matt Horn wrote:

    I’m not arguing the merit, just saying that there was limits on lawyer advertising that was involved in that action as well. I think if they are to reinstitute the ad bans, they need to do it across the board. All this discussion is moot, however, as the Supreme Court already ruled on this issue. It would take more than a windbag politician (and med-mal lawyer, wink wink) to change that ruling.

    Posted 31 Oct 2007 at 10:52 am
  4. Marc Brown wrote:

    There are good reasons why so far only the US and New Zealand permit direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Just look at what happened with Vioxx. as the NEJM reports: ‘From 1997 to 2006, nearly 84% of regulatory letters regarding direct-to-consumer advertising cited advertisements for either minimizing risks (e.g., minimizing or omitting information on side effects), exaggerating effectiveness (e.g., portraying the indication too broadly or making unsubstantiated claims of superiority over other drugs), or both.’

    Posted 31 Oct 2007 at 11:03 am
  5. Matt Horn wrote:

    mea culpa. The ruling that allowed lawyers to advertise was 1977.

    Posted 31 Oct 2007 at 2:59 pm
  6. JL wrote:

    In this circumstance, the average consumer cannot be educated enough to evaluate the efficacy of the product advertised. And to be honest, the physician likely doesn’t either because he receives most of his new information about this medicines from the drug representatives. They fail to contact pharmacists or other drug experts. Edwards is right in one regard, though, and that is that it contributes to the increased drug prices we see. Unfortunately, each new drug that is patented is a monopoly for the company. They can charge astronomical prices all the while attributing it to covering research and design expenses. If you check their income statements, you will find that their marketing expenses far outweigh their research and design expenses.

    Posted 02 Nov 2007 at 2:09 am

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