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Drug advertising: truths, half-truths and few statistics

David A Newby and David A Henry
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (6): 285-286.
Published online: 16 September 2002

In this issue of the Journal, Loke and colleagues (page 291) present data from an analysis of 174 advertisements for pharmaceuticals appearing in six Australian medical publications.1 The findings are striking enough to be restated. Fewer than 8% of the advertisements contained quantitative data about the outcomes of therapy, and most of these framed the information in relative rather than absolute terms. Only 28% of the therapeutic claims in the advertisements conveyed clinical outcomes in any specific, substantive and unambiguous way. In the United States, pharmaceutical advertising is subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,2 and Loke et al suggest that, in Australia, advertisements for drugs may be less informative than in the US. The pharmaceutical industry has long maintained that drug advertisements are an important vehicle for conveying important information about new drugs to prescribers. Is this how industry believes it should communicate with highly trained healthcare professionals? Should we really be surprised by the results of Loke et al, and, more importantly, should we be concerned?

  • David A Newby1
  • David A Henry2

  • Clinical Pharmacology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.


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