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Less than 33% of the most common drugs advertised on TV are rated as having high therapeutic value, according to new study

Direct-to-consumer advertising is associated with use of higher-cost drugs over generics and less expensive alternatives that may provide the same benefits.

drug advertisement on TV

Researchers Neeraj G Patel, Thomas J. Hwang, Steven Woloshin, and Aaron S Kesselheim collected monthly lists of the United States most advertised drugs from September 2015 to August 2021. For each drug, the authors obtained therapeutic value ratings from independent health technology assessment agencies and defined ratings of moderate or greater therapeutic value to those drugs with high therapeutic value.

After compiling their results, less than one-third of the most common drugs advertised on television were rated as having high therapeutic value (i.e. defined as providing at least moderate improvement in clinical outcomes compared with existing therapies). In other words, this means manufacturers’ television advertising spending on drugs rated as adding low therapeutic value was $15.9 billion from 2015 to 2021.

As the authors conclude “Policymakers and regulators could consider limiting direct-to-consumer advertising to drugs with high therapeutic or public health value or requiring standardized disclosure of comparative effectiveness and safety data but policy changes would likely require industry cooperation or face a constitutional challenge.”

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