70 percent of the top prescription drugs advertised on television were rated as having low therapeutic value.
A new study led by Aaron Kesselheim, who leads Harvard's Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) and includes researchers at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, looked at monthly lists of the top-advertised drugs on TV in the US between 2015 and 2021.
BIG MONEY FOR LOW VALUE
Pharmaceutical companies spent $22.3 billion on advertising for the top 73 drugs between 2015 and 2021. 53 of the 73 drugs were found to have low benefit. Collectively, these low-benefit drugs accounted for $15.9 billion of the ad spending.
USA OUT OF STEP WITH THE WORLD
The US is one of only two countries that allows direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertisements, such as TV commercials. In 2015 American Medical Association called for an all-out ban on DTC ads for prescription drugs and medical devices. AMA members said the ads were "driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives."
PERVERSION OF FREE MARKETS
Drug companies are incentivized to sell as much of their portfolio of drugs as possible at as high a price as possible. They will use legal tactics available to them to achieve high sales and profitability. The problem is that less expensive and more effective alternatives can be far less profitable. Drugs that have gone beyond their patent life can still be the best solution, as well as medicinal plants that have been used by various cultures for centuries.
The issue is not the free enterprise system. The issue is we do not have a free market where consumers can choose freely. In a pure market, the supplier's drive for revenue and profitability are balance by the consumer's drive for low prices and better products. Pharma is protected from free market pressures with monopoly patent protection on new drugs, and a health care system where decisions are made in executive suites and congressional offices, rather than directly by consumers.
LET'S MAKE IT BETTER
A step in the right direction is to activate employers who have a self-interest in lowering healthcare costs and achieving better health outcomes. CareMoat gives employers the tools to do just that and have immediate savings. This is a long road. In the short term, we need to match the policies of other developed countries, follow the AMA’s leadership, and stop direct to consumers drug advertising.