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Survey Finds Most Americans Aware of Drug Ads

Kate Traynor

A survey conducted for the National Consumers League (NCL) found that most adults are aware of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, and that the ads prompt responses from a fair number of consumers.

Of the 1,012 adults who participated in the survey, 77 percent recalled having seen or heard an advertisement for a prescription medication during the past 12 months. Nearly one fifth of the survey respondents said they had an interest in the condition described in the ad.

Within this group of respondents, which represented 16 percent of all those surveyed, 71 percent said they or a family member had the medical condition described in the ad. Of those with the condition, 62 percent were using the advertised medication or another drug product to treat the illness.

In all, 123 adults, or 12 percent of those surveyed, said that they had taken some form of action after exposure to an ad about a medical condition of interest. Sixteen percent of this subgroup immediately contacted their physician about the ad, and 31 percent planned to discuss the ad with a physician during the next appointment.

Of those with an interest in the condition mentioned in the DTC ad, 26 percent sought more information about the product. Sixteen percent of these people asked their pharmacist for the information. Pharmacists were, by a small margin, the most frequently used source of information about the advertised products.

Among the 773 survey respondents who had seen or heard a DTC ad for a prescription medication, 60 percent agreed that the purpose of the ads is to increase sales. About half of those who had seen or heard an ad said that advertising is largely responsible for spiraling drug costs. The same proportion of people said that the ads encourage people to seek unnecessary drug treatment.

Still, almost half of those exposed to DTC ads agreed that they describe adverse events in an easily understood way. More than 40 percent said that DTC ads can "de-stigmatize" an embarrassing condition, prompting patients to seek treatment, or can help patients who think they may have a certain medical problem better communicate with a physician. Only 25 percent of people who had seen or heard an ad said that drug advertisements should be restricted to medical journals.

According to NCL, the nationwide survey was conducted by telephone in October 2002 with the goal of examining the effectiveness of DTC ads. Additional information about the survey, including a breakdown of opinions among seniors, who represented 30 percent of the sample, is available at the NCL Web site.