Another branch of the federal government is trying to find the proper balance between public and commercial interests in prescription pharmaceutical advertising.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has opened a 60-day public comment period on its plan to study the impact of advertising directed at drug consumers in light of changes wrought by widespread public access to the Internet and online social media. A description of the FDA's proposal appears in today's Federal Register.
It joins the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments Wednesday in what could be a landmark decision on whether states have the right to limit pharmaceutical companies' mining of physicians' prescription records for drug-marketing purposes.
The FDA, meanwhile, is trying to catch up with the impact that online advertising has on consumer behavior.
Rules regarding drug promotion were written at a time when print and broadcast were the media available to marketers and the primary audience for drug advertisements was healthcare professionals, according to the notice. "Those rules require that advertising present a 'fair balance' of information about both the benefits and the risks of a specific drug," the FDA noted.
According to the FDA notice, several existing studies of pharmaceutical companies' marketing efforts have found that "risk information is often presented less prominently and in fewer locations" on websites. Furthermore, "Content analyses also suggest that risk information on DTC prescription-drug websites is often incomplete and written at very high literacy levels."