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Should Prescription Drugs be allowed to advertise directly to Consumers

Prescription drugs are pharmaceutical drugs that legally require a medical prescription to be dispensed.
These include antibiotics, sleeping tablets, cough syrups, cancer drugs, tranquilizers, pain killers, etc.
As consumers, we might have noticed the variety of companies in the pharmaceutical industry which produce medicines of similar effect and composition under different names at different rates. Like any other commodity, these companies also dedicate huge sums of money for the marketing and branding of drugs which is necessary to differentiate one company from another.

|| Evlyn Ann

Pharma Marketing is the process of marketing drugs by private and public organizations to doctors, clinicians, and even directly to consumers. In India, there is no regulation on the promotion and marketing of drugs by companies to healthcare practitioners and providers but direct consumer advertising is controlled under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954.

Addiction to prescription drugs is not uncommon in our country, nowadays. The uncontrolled and poorly supervised distribution along with the unauthorized merchandising of these drugs have further aggravated the situation. People are getting addicted to pain killers, cough syrups, and even insecticides like Baygon Spray. The most commonly misused kinds of drugs are;

  • Opioids (pain relievers)
  • Depressants (sleeping tablets and anxiety relievers)
  • Stimulants ( increase the neural activity in the brain)

The misuse of drugs implies the consumption of medication without a prescription, taking someone else’s prescription, using it to get ‘high’, consuming it in a way other than the prescribed manner, or mixing it with alcohol or any other drugs.

UN Report on drug use concentrated on India and Nigeria revealed that there is a 30% increase in the illicit use of prescribed drugs and related deaths. Out of those treated in India in 2006, 19% reported pharma drug abuse which rose to 22% in 2007-2008.

The discussion opposing and supporting the concept of Direct Consumer (DTC) Marketing of Prescribed Drugs has been going on for quite a long time. In this time of technological advancements and high media influence, Direct to Consumer Advertisements serve as an effective choice but can easily be misinterpreted and put to wrong use.

  • It creates a notion that anything and everything can be cured by taking pills and that they are essential for a healthier living. We have to realize that the purpose of this type of marketing is selling more of the company’s products and not imparting knowledge of drugs. When a patient approaches a practitioner with a preconceived, self-taught knowledge regarding the medicine that he/she believes will cure her ailment, the practitioner is in a way forced to prescribe them rather than correcting his/her belief.
  • There are chances for the doctors themselves to get manipulated by these ads. When the drugs are extensively advertised, doctors might feel that the patients are already aware of the side effects and might forget to mention them. Almost 75% of the surveyed physicians believe that their patients think that a drug works better than it does and this might affect their lifestyle which may lead to more diseases (report by FDA).
  • It also exaggerates the effectiveness of the drugs while understating its side effects and precautions to be taken while consuming. 65% of the practitioners believe that DTC ads confuse their patients about the risks and the benefits involved.
  • World Health Organization, in their publication; Guidelines for the Regulatory Assessment of Medicinal Products for Use in Self-Medication, states that advertisements directly addressing the consumers should not generally be permitted for prescription drugs or to promote drugs for certain conditions that can be treated only by qualified medical practitioners. It also mentions that to fight drug addiction and dependency, scheduled narcotic and psychotropic drugs should not be advertised to the general public.
    Many are of the view that direct to consumer marketing benefits only the pharmaceutical companies and not the consumers. The advertising costs will be added up in the prices to be paid by the buyer and this burdens the consumers. Robert M Centor, Director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Alabama, in his editorial “Take Drug Ads off the Air” strongly opined that drug advertisements make the prescriptions more costly and it creates a demand for the product based on effective commercial rather than the patient’s medical need.

The advocators of Direct Consumer Marketing believe that;

  • It makes the patients aware of the medicines available and viable treatment options. The increased knowledge and consciousness makes the patient less vulnerable to medical malpractices and accidents.
  • It will help in destigmatizing and raising awareness of certain disorders. The patients feel more confident that they’ll be cured and this positivity is good for their mental health.
  • Advertising serves as an important source of information to the consumers and sometimes it might encourage them to visit a medical practitioner and pay heed to the symptoms.
  • It creates a better understanding between the doctors and patients and this will lead to an efficient treatment path. The DTC Prescription Drug Advertising statement of AAF affirms that these ads are helping the doctors to get a better picture as the patients are prompted to openly communicate with them.

The net effect of direct consumer marketing depends on individual perception and knowledge. Direct Consumer Advertising of prescription drugs is an important step that should be meticulously supervised to avoid greater harm. It might raise awareness regarding the use of prescription drugs but the rampant increase in drug abuse can’t be neglected. Adherence to guidelines, thorough supervision of distribution channels, and awareness programs regarding drug abuse can improve the lives of many who are fighting the addiction.

 

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