Direct-to-consumer advertising is to blame at least in part for the increase in spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. from 1999 to 2000, according to a study released late last month.
The 50 drugs most heavily advertised to consumers accounted for nearly half-47.8%-of the $20.8 billion rise in retail prescription-drug sales during that period, according to the study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Research and Educational Foundation, Washington. The not-for-profit group was founded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.
All told, retail sales revenue for the 50 most heavily advertised drugs rose 32% for the one-year period, compared with a 13.6% increase in sales revenue for about 9,850 other prescription drugs on the market. A 24.6% climb in the number of prescriptions written accounted for the surging sales revenue for the 50 drugs, not price increases, the study said. The number of prescriptions for all other drugs grew just 4.3% over the same period.
The findings add to "circumstantial evidence" that mass media advertising is fueling use of expensive, new drugs, although other factors are at work, the study authors said. Also contributing are new drugs for chronic conditions, an increase in the number of patients with such conditions, an aging population and greater promotional spending on physicians.
In a written statement, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, a pharmaceutical trade group, said the study "misses its mark." Advertising also encourages patients to seek medical care and comply with prescribed treatments, the PhRMA said.
"It's difficult to understand why (the institute) and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers who make up 11 of the 12 members of its board of directors continue to object to advertising that gives patients information about their healthcare treatment options," PhRMA President Alan Holmer said in the statement.
Overall, promotional spending on prescription drugs, including advertising, rose to $15.7 billion in 2000 from $13.9 billion in 1999, according to the study. Direct-to-consumer ad spending remained a relatively small-although rapidly growing-portion of promotional spending, rising to $2.5 billion from $1.8 billion during the one-year period.