Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Heat is On...The Hill

It may be springtime in Washington, but things just keep heating up for FDA and the pharmaceutical industry on Capitol Hill.

Heparin safety, the overseas inspections process, DTC advertising, FDA's budget and the integrity of the agency's scientific mission have all been the subject of one or more hearings so far this year.

Indeed, one influential member of Congress alone—Energy & Commerce Oversight & Investigations subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak—has already held four hearings related to pharmaceutical regulation. That doesn’t count his hearing today on DTC advertising and a crowded schedule in 2007, which included a two-part series on drug safety and a four-part series on food safety.

Center for New Drug Evaluation & Research director Janet Woodcock has shouldered more than her fair share of that hearing burden, testifying several times already this year, most recently on the heparin crisis and drug safety in general. She acknowledges the stress of the schedule she’s been keeping on Capitol Hill, but hopes that her testimony has helped put some issues to rest.

“We’ve had a good show for ourselves, at least at CDER,” she says. “We can get criticized, but I think we have answered the criticism, and that’s what we need to keep pressing on.”

One positive outcome may be more money for FDA: Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) supports increasing FDA's fiscal 2009 appropriations by $375 million over FY 2008, with larger increases for the next five years. Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach may have dampened enthusiasm for that big of an increase, however, by telling the Senate Appropriations Committee April 15 that FDA could absorb an additional $100 million in funding in FY 2009.

But the attention isn't all upside: We’ve said it before, but when FDA officials are hauled up to Capitol Hill and bashed over the head for doing a poor job, that doesn’t reflect too kindly on the industries it regulates. Woodcock expressed hope that the attention will start to shift to other issues. “They will continue to have oversight hearings,” she said, but “Congress will become more interested in the electoral process very soon.”

Well, not quite yet. FDA isn’t appearing at Rep. Stupak’s hearing on DTC advertising—executives from Pfizer, Merck/Schering Plough and Ortho Biotech are testifying today. But that doesn't mean they won't be next. We hate to say it, but this is exactly the kind of attention that we (ahem) predicted would happen following the Vytorin/Zetia kerfluffle. Given Rep. Stupak’s preference to hold multiple hearings on a single topic, you can bet it won’t be the last word.


Anonymous said...

Published on

Your Television as you doctor?

Often, usually on television, one viewing will often at times see an advertisement for some type of medication- usually one involved in a large market disease state and the commercial is sponsored usually by a big pharmaceutical company for a particular network.

This is called direct to consumer advertising, and doctors would prefer they did not exist.

Since 1997, when the FDA relaxed regulations regarding this form of advertising, the popularity of the creation of such commercials has greatly increased. The pharmaceutical industry spends around 5 billion annually on this media source now. Normally, the creation of such a commercial becomes visible to the consumer within a year of the drug’s approval, which raises safety concerns. And involves money spent that could be applied to greater uses, according t many, but we are dealing with a corporation here.

The purpose of DTC ads is not education, in my opinion, as others have claimed. Any advertising of any type shares the same objective, which is to increase sales and grow their market and, in this case, for a particular perceived medical condition or disease state. The intent of DTC advertising is to generate an emotional response from the viewer, such as fear or concern, believing upon research that the viewer will then question as to whether they need to seek treatment for what may be an unconfirmed medical condition.

Furthermore, the FDA has admitted that they are ignorant as far as the content of such DTC ads, in relation to their accuracy and clarity, as well as their effect on the health care system.
DTC advertising is also a catalyst for and similar to disease mongering.

Disease mongering is the creation of what some believe to be medical flaws, and illustrated by the creators through exaggeration and embellishments through media sources as an avenue for suc propaganda, as is often seen with DTC advertising. Yet the flaws may not be medical, but corporate creations of these questionable human ailments that do not require treatment, possibly, and may be an attempt to develop a particular medical condition to acquire profit. One of my favorite DTCs is the new indication for the use of an anti-depressant for a social disorder. This used to be called introversion, a term created by Dr. Carl Yung. And it is a personality trait, not a medical disease. There are other questionable medical conditions claimed in the contents of DTC commercials, as the creators wish to grow the market for a particular, and possibly fictional, disease state. Then there is baldness treatments advertised, as another example. Lifestyle meds are not treatment meds for illnesses, and should not be portrayed as such.

Also, DTC ads discuss only one treatment option normally, so it seems, when likely several treatment options exist for authentic medical disorders. This should be left to the discretion of the doctor, as they assess your health, not your television or another media source. That’s why most of the world does not conduct DTC advertising, with the exception of our country and New Zealand.

Finally, DTC advertising and its ability to influence viewers to make their own assessment instead of a medical professional remains largely unregulated, yet apparently effective for the DTC creators. People are prone to believe what they see and hear, regardless of whether or not it is actually true. Many, after viewing a DTC ad, seek out a doctor visit and request whatever product that was advertised, which makes things cumbersome for the doctor chosen for such a visit.

So the doctor and patient relationship is altered in a negative way, because most DTC ads require a prescription.
Medical information and claims of suggested health ailments should come from those in the medical field instead of the corporate world. Perhaps this will save some over-prescribing, which will benefit everyone in the long term. And the Health Care System can regain control of their purpose, which is far from financial prosperity.

“Do every act of your life as if it were your last.” ---- Marcus Aurelius

Dan Abshear

Author’s note: What has been written was based on information and belief

Lily said...

All these DTC ads are pushing new drugs when the old drugs or the generics are much, much less expensive. I’ve seen ads on TV for Caduet. It has two ingredients. One is Amlodipine and the other is Atorvastatin. With my RxDrugCard I can get 30 tablets of Amlodipine for $9 and 30 tablets of Simvastatin for $9. I’ll bet they are charging more than $18 for this new drug! The unthinking public is going to pressure their doctors into giving them something just because it’s new, when something old or generic would do the job for cheaper.