Regulations of Prescription Drug Advertising
This particular morning, Sheri*, a Northeastern senior, is able to get out of bed. With difficulty, she pushes past the chronic pain in her back and shoulder muscles and manages to get dressed. The clothes she wears are not the trendy, youthful clothes of a normal 22-year-old girl in college, but instead a baggy grey sweat suit that hides the nearly 20-pound weight gain she is still trying to work off. She covers her face in makeup to conceal the painful acne that has flared up once again.
The advertisement for Depo-Provera, a contraceptive vaccination, sounded appealing to Sheri, as she had trouble remembering to take her current form of birth control.
“It said that I would not have to worry about taking a pill every day, that it was more effective than other forms of birth control, and that the main side effect was that my period might completely go away,” Sheri said. “That sounded wonderful to me.”
Depo-Provera is a form of birth control that requires an injection every three months. Each shot prevents pregnancy for 12 weeks, and it is completely reversible. Depo is cited by Planned Parenthood as one of the most effective forms of reversible birth control.
So Sheri did as the advertisement directed her to do and asked her doctor about it. She made sure to ask plenty of questions during the consultation. She was told that she simply might gain a minimal amount of weight, possibly five pounds, and that her menses would indeed diminish or even just not occur. However, the side effects she began to encounter after her second shot were much more serious, and she is not alone. Sheri belongs to an online support group called “Depo Provera Horror Stories,” a site composed of the stories of hundreds of women who like herself have had serious side effects from Depo-Provera.
Today she has yet another risk to worry about. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is the government agency responsible for regulating direct- to-consumer prescription drug advertising, recently announced that they are branding Depo-Provera with the strongest possible warning label due to a proven loss of bone density.
Sheri is one of thousands of Americans who was enticed by prescription drug advertising. According to a study from the Kaiser Foundation, nearly 85% of adults in 2002 reported seeing or hearing advertisements for prescription drugs. Nearly one third reported talking to their doctor about a drug they saw advertised, and of those, 44% were written a prescription for the drug they requested.
But is direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) safe? Gladys McKie, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and former public relations practitioner for medical centers and publications in New England, advocates a patient education approach for this type of advertising.
“I don’t think the pharmaceutical companies do a good job of making people understand the side effects, and I think that is...