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Advertising age

Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in Canada

Canadian Medical Association Journal

Although direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines is prohibited in Canada, it is nonetheless pervasive in this country, partly owing to the influence of the US media.

DTCA campaigns cost the pharmaceutical industry US$2.7 billion in the US in 2001. Such massive advertising efforts, it can be assumed, would increase the public's awareness of advertised drugs and lead patients to open conversations with their physicians. But does DTCA increase the number of prescriptions? Mintzes and colleagues present the results of a comparative cross-sectional survey performed in Vancouver and in Sacramento, Calif. Their results reveal an unsavoury link between DTCA and the prescription pad.

In a related commentary, Gardner and colleagues explore the tensions involved in DTCA and the present situation in Canada. The effects of unregulated advertising on patient attitudes and the transfer of DTCA costs to the consumer through higher drug prices are issues central to the debate. The authors point out that the current mechanisms for regulating DTCA in Canada are lacking, and therefore they need to be either strengthened or re-examined in public and political forums.

An accompanying editorial states that, while consumers may react to a drug advertisement with healthy skepticism, if such advertising were allowed in Canada pharmaceutical firms could be expected to spend about $360 million per year on DTCA and drug sales could increase by as much as $1.2 billion. These costs, the CMAJ editors warn, would be added almost entirely the already cash-strapped medicare program.

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p. 405 How does direct-to-consumer advertising affect prescribing?
-- B. Mintzes et al

p. 425 Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada: Permission by default?
-- D.M. Gardner, B. Mintzes, A. Ostry

p. 381 Ads and prescription pads
-- Editorial

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