TV drug ads: Take the claims with a dose of skepticism

A new study says lots of the marketing for both prescription and over-the-counter medications is misleading.

By Bruce Kennedy Sep 18, 2013 10:16AM

Prescription medicine expenses (© Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images)It has been 16 years since the Food and Drug Administration permitted drug companies to broadcast ads for their products. And according to The New York Times, big pharma now spends close to $5 billion annually on TV ads for prescription drugs, with $3 billion more going toward over-the-counter drugs.

Back when these ads were first introduced, they were hailed as a way of ensuring better consumer awareness about prescription and OTC drugs. But a new study says potentially misleading claims are "prevalent" when it comes to direct-to-consumer ads on TV.

Researchers from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy, reviewed nearly 170 TV ads for drugs that aired between 2008 to 2010 during national news broadcasts. They brought in trained analysts to classify the ads' claims and statements as truthful, potentially misleading or false.

Their results, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, aren't reassuring.

The study found that of the "most emphasized claims" for both prescription and OTC drug ads, only 33% were found to be "objectively true," while 57% were potentially misleading and 10% were false. The researchers noted there were more objectively true claims (43%) and fewer false claims (2%) in prescription drug ads than in the OTC ads (23% objectively true vs. 7% false).

The researchers said the most surprising result was the frequency of potentially misleading claims, that is, claims that were literally true but, upon closer examination, "may mislead consumers due to omissions, exaggerations, opinions and meaningless associations."

The authors also noted that their research and results from previous studies "indicate a wider pattern of persuasion and deception in drug advertising to consumers."

Co-author Adrienne Faerber of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice said she's concerned that TV drug ads may persuade consumers to want medicines they may not need.

"Healthcare consumers need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health," said Faerber in a press statement, "but these TV drug ads had misleading statements that omitted or exaggerated information. These results conflict with arguments that drug ads are helping inform consumers."

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Sep 18, 2013 10:40AM
Seems like every other ad on TV is for a drug. 90% of the ad is a long list of the side effects that seem worse than the original condition they are advertising for.
Sep 18, 2013 1:07PM

America was a much greater place before these addictive death peddlers were allowed to advertise!!!!!

Bring back the ban on Advertising Doctors , drugs , and lawyers.

All those in favor  click like


Sep 18, 2013 10:23AM
Wait, you mean some ads are misleading, just so they can get you to buy their stuff?  No.  Can't be.  Not possible.  Everything they say on TV is always true, just like the internet. 


Sep 18, 2013 11:43AM
this is the typical of the corporations in the US today; 

lie to the consumer all you want just to get them to buy,
if that doesn't work, hit "em with the fine print, or
attach erroneous fees to their bill 

pesky regulations !!!!
Sep 18, 2013 12:42PM
If you listened to these ads you would never take drugs again.
Sep 18, 2013 11:20AM
You mean I can no longer sleep easier at night knowing that Big Pharma is on the verge of eradicating the ever present scourge of limp weenies that is afflicting the country?
Sep 18, 2013 12:19PM

Pretty ironic a GOVERNMENT agency did a study to figure this out. Probably learned all this from GOVERNMENT guidelines.


You can't trust anybody to do anything without trying to scam you one way or another.


Sad you have to go through life in a very defensive way.

Sep 18, 2013 1:35PM
What really sucks is we have to pay monopoly prices for drugs while they are under patent.  And that is all justified if they spend it on research, but sadly most of it goes to advertisement.  And the cost of healthcare keeps on going up!  Wake up people!!!!!

"Healthcare consumers need unrestricted access to high-quality information about health,"

Nail on the Head sir.

Sep 18, 2013 12:27PM

It is true people can be brainwashed. We were told this is doe in communist and totalitarian systems. Now we find out that Government and companies stuff peoples brains in so called free capitalistic system.


Ads are now forced upon us everywhere. MSN wants their share of flesh. Forget about Gate's big initiatives. The google trying to be good guys when started now give us search results that are less than honest and often forces us to sell something. Utube forces videos on us to sell us.


In old times we had free TV that came with ads. Now we are forced ads and asked to pay our kids education money.

Privacy is gone from everywhere. At every corner they ask for emails and phone number. Finally I had to create email us for it where I delete 99.9 % messages every week. I no longer pay with credit or debit card and unless savings is worth do not use store card.


The saddest thing is that Liberals that once championed ordinary have found is worth while and Obama proved it in his election and reelection. The prophet of Government funded campaign gave up the jihad once he found he can tap into to the tune of Billion. Conservatives who were champion of individual liberty and privacy have all but given up.


We are check mated at every corner of our lives. We are no longer free. We are no longer middle class. Most money have been taken away by communication where we keep mon resurging same news in a news wine fashion as if our lives depend on it. We go for causes that has no real value but makes people feel involved. Billions are raised by good cause loyalist where very little of no money goes to causes advertised but to pay to heading those causes. But we are brainwashed to give to them.


We go to  doctor and say I have these symptoms and I have heart this medication works. Can you prescribe it to me. And doctor obliges and nation end up with false medicare and false medicine for no real sickness.

Alas, We have no savior. Even Senator Elizabeth who championed it for years to save us now having tested power has gone silent.


Folks, We have no hope. In death some day we all will be free.

Sep 19, 2013 2:18PM
I find it sometimes hilarious that the big three TV networks advertise 24x7 and then, on their 30 minute evening news casts, its nearly 50% program to ad ratio...a whopping 15 minutes set aside to have perfectly dressed, manicured and made up people telling us what is happening in the whole world.
These snippets of empty gossip interspersed with ad content of which is laughable if not aggravating. For example, incontinence products followed by sexual dysfunction drugs followed by anti-depressants followed by female hygiene products and...catheters, just to name a tiny few. Maybe the sponsors need to be cognizant of what/when and how they time their hawkings.
Then a few years later the ads for the hordes of attorneys prosecuting the class action suits for these same drugs that have killed or maimed. Its nuts! Its the American way!  Sheesh...

Sep 18, 2013 4:39PM
I am shocked - say it isn't true. I was counting on taking a couple pills, having an erection that lasts just under four hours coupled with the testosterone of a 20 year old. When that's done I planned on going fishing with my sons because I won't have anymore COPD. Then we were going to get ribs smothered in Jalapeno sauce because I never get acid reflux  anymore .. and IBS - never.
My only fear is that I may go blind, lose feeling in my legs, have soreness, muscle aches, dizziness, nausea, end up with liver or kidney damage and in some instances ... die .... 
Sep 18, 2013 12:47PM
Our health, in many cases, fortunately is under our control. Hippocrates said, "let your food be your medicine."  Foods are and have been for thousands of years a foundational block of Ayuervedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. A western magic bullet medication doesn't come without baggage in most situations.
If you are fortunate enough to have decent health then don't succumb to the Madison Ave. spin doctor's commercials of a quick and easy fix. Take the less traveled road of thousands of years of healing experience and success of the Orient who first studied the body from the outside to the inside and then the inside to the outside. They studied healthy people as their models unlike the West who studies ill persons as their models.

Sep 18, 2013 1:05PM
All drug ads help pay for programming like prime time evening news...just wondering why non of them ever do reports on non drug health care advancements?  Follow the money???
Sep 18, 2013 12:41PM
Where are you, BeingHonest??  This is what you constantly rant about no matter what the subject of the article is. 
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