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MDs are asked to monitor drug ads

Associated Press / May 12, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration will ask doctors to watch for misleading drug ads as part of an effort to police the pharmaceutical industry’s multibillion-dollar marketing machine.

The “bad ad program’’ urges doctors to report sales pitches that violate FDA rules. Drug companies are required to present a balanced picture of a drug’s benefits and risks; critics say many ads fail to do so.

Currently, the FDA relies on a few dozen staffers to review hundreds of pharmaceutical ads, brochures, and presentations voluntarily submitted by companies or reported by drug industry personnel.

The agency issues warning letters to companies using misleading materials, but because of the volume of submissions those letters often aren’t sent until months after the ad is released — and in some cases after the ad is no longer in circulation.

“The Bad Ad Program will help health care providers recognize misleading prescription drug promotion and provide them with an easy way to report this activity to the agency,’’ said Thomas Abrams, director of FDA’s drug advertising division.

The drug industry’s lobbying group said it supports the effort.

The group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, represents most of the world’s largest drug makers, including Pfizer, Merck & Co., and GlaxoSmithKline.

Drug makers spend about $20 billion per year to promote their products in various mediums, ranging from medical journal ads and information booths at conferences to multimillion dollar TV campaigns.

About $4 billion of industry spending goes toward patient-targeted advertisements.