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Volume 9, Number 18Space holderMay 6, 2005
photo of Matthew Hollon
M. Hollon

Hollon Calls for Change in Pharmaceutical Advertising

Matthew Hollon, UW assistant professor of medicine, calls for a change in direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals in an editorial in the April 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The editorial, Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: A Haphazard Approach to Health Promotion, accompanies a study called Direct-to-Consumer Advertising May Influence Physicians' Prescribing Decisions.

Hollon and researchers say direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising relies on emotional appeals, provides little health information, and describes benefits in vague terms. He says the ads should be tempered with educational messages and better training of doctors. He also calls for a moratorium on advertising for new drugs until all risks are known.

The editorial comments on a study in which researchers sent actors pretending to be patients with symptoms of depression, stress, and fatigue to visit 152 doctor's offices.

The researchers wanted to see whether the actors would be prescribed medication. The study found that those who did not report symptoms were not given medications. However, of those who specifically asked for the highly advertised Paxil, 55 percent received the prescription, and 50 percent were diagnosed as depressed.

The study suggests that direct-to-consumer advertising can lead to overmedication of people who do not need treatment.

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