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Advertising Often Not “Fair and Balanced” Once Drugs Go OTC

Filed September 19th, 2012 Laurie

A new study finds that when prescription drugs become available over-the-counter, marketers start emphasizing the benefits and start downplaying the risks.
Researchers poured over ads for four formerly prescription drugs and found that only 11 percent of ads mentioned the drugs’ side effects after they became available without a prescription versus 70 percent before.

Dr. Jeremy Greene of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who led the work, said that in “many, many cases” information about the risks completely disappeared from ads. The drugs’ prescription name is also often left out. And in many instances, consumers wrongly assume that because a drug has made the transition, it is because there are no longer any side effect concerns associated with it.

Liver toxicity caused by acetaminophen, which is the main ingredient in Tylenol, is the
most common reason people go to the ER for poisoning

“A commitment to fair balance in drug promotion is clearly lost when a drug moves from prescription-only to over-the-counter status,” said Dr. Greene.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and was supported by CVS Caremark.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversee ads for prescription drugs and ensures that they present a “fair balance” of both harms and benefits. The Federal Trade Commission oversees OTC drugs and has no such requirement.
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