It’s been on the scene for over a decade. The pharmaceutical industry has invested billions in it. Tens of millions of consumers have been exposed to it and there are proposals to try to stop it. But the big question remaining on everyone’s mind is this:
Does direct-to-consumer drug advertising actually work?
Just today a new study of direct-to-consumer ads like the one above for testosterone replacement therapy was released in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That study concluded that between 2009 and 2013, exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for testosterone therapies was associated with greater testosterone testing and new use of testosterone therapies for men who likely weren’t appropriate candidates for treatment.
In other words, drug advertising appears to be an effective strategy for pharmaceutical companies to increase customers for their products. But creating more customers and sales for drug companies isn’t making the U.S. population any healthier.
Once pharma gets a foot in the door…
Testosterone therapies are approved only to treat hypogonadism (where the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone) and other forms of pathological low testosterone. Now, however, many men take testosterone to reverse reductions that may be a normal result of aging. As we’ve seen in other conditions, such as ADHD, high cholesterol, and hormone replacement therapy, among others, once drugs are proven effective and approved for the specific population in which they are tested, they quickly end up getting prescribed to a wider body of patients than is likely needed or safe.
Certainly the prescribing and use of testosterone therapy has grown dramatically around the globe. One report from ABC News in 2012 said that the use of testosterone had doubled between 2006 and 2012 and was going to triple over the next five years.
The marketing of low testosterone has expanded at a similarly rapid pace, resulting in lots of accusations of disease mongering. Many researchers and health policy experts including myself, have written about this controversial condition and the self-administered questionnaire known as the “Low-T” test which is touted as a way for men to “get their mojo back.”
What’s good for drug companies is not always good for public health In an accompanying editorial in JAMA, Dr. Richard Kravitz from the University of California in Sacramento wrote that the data provided by this study was “an important reminder that DTCA, while a potentially powerful tool in motivating patient behavior and perhaps even physician prescribing, does not necessarily serve to improve the health of patients or the public.” (Más)
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