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Prescription drugs help many people and even save lives. But use of prescription drugs as prescribed is also a leading cause of death in the U.S.

Are some pharmaceutical companies skirting TV ad rules so that they don't have to disclose side effects of some vaccines and other prescription medicine?

Some critics say "yes." And when I asked the FDA about the allegations, the agency told me it's planning a new study into the issue.

Below are excerpts from my Full Measure investigation with a link to the full story at the bottom.
Full Measure has learned the FDA is planning a new study on TV advertising of prescription drugs. It's a multi-billion dollar industry benefiting both pharmaceutical companies and the television networks paid to run the ads. Supporters say patients benefit too. But almost nowhere in the world is it allowed except here. And with prescription drugs a leading cause of death and injury, we investigate the Pill Pitch.
Dr. Michael Carome leads the Health Research Group at the watchdog Public Citizen.

He's against prescription drug advertising on TV. It was forbidden until a fierce lobbying campaign by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s.

Dr. Michael Carome: In 1997, the FDA opened the floodgates to broadcast media: television, and radio ads, for prescription drugs, and we now have companies spending billions of dollars every year on this advertising.

Dr. Michael Carome: The average person in the U.S. sees nine drug ads a day, or 30 hours of drug ads per year. It's just an extraordinary amount of exposure to prescription drug advertising.

The ads upset the longstanding rule that doctors alone should decide the best pills for patients.

To get an idea of how much the ads boost profits, you need only look at how much is spent on them. In 2018, the pharmaceutical industry shelled out $6.4 billion on so-called "direct-to-consumer ads." No-one from the drug industry would agree to an interview. Representatives have said in the past that advertising saves lives and improves public health.

Dr. Carome say there are serious downsides.

Dr. Michael Carome: they're the newest drugs, so we often know the least about their safety because they haven't been on the market for a while. And often there are older alternatives that may be equally effective, and safer, and because those drugs aren't advertised, because the generic drug industry doesn't do this type of advertising, it can worsen the public health overall.

Experts say taking prescription drugs as prescribed is a leading cause of death in the U.S. — a factor in as many as 200,000 deaths a year.

Safety is a big reason why the FDA requires the ads to clearly disclose risks.

Dr. Michael Carome: they're going to make sure that the viewers leave the commercial with an understanding of the benefits of perhaps some miracle cure, and not hopefully remember too much about the potential harms and risks.

Read more about Pill Pitch here

About the author

Sharyl Attkisson is a nonpartisan Investigative Journalist who tries to give you information others don't want you to have. What you do with it is your own business. Do your own research. Seek advice from those you trust. Make up your own mind. Think for yourself.