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Ban TV Ads For Prescription Drugs?

The American Medical Association would seek to ban prescription drug ads from television, newspapers and magazines under a proposal many doctors say is needed to keep patients from being misinformed.

"This is catastrophic in my office, with patients coming in and demanding a drug they saw on television," Dr. David Priver of San Diego told an AMA committee at the start of the AMA's five-day annual meeting.

The ads can undermine doctors' credibility, especially if a physician thinks an advertised drug isn't the best choice for a patient who demands it, said Dr. Angelo Agro of the AMA's New Jersey delegation, which drafted the proposal.

Ads by their nature are biased and compressed, and driven more by drug companies' financial concerns than by concern for the patients' best interest, said Agro, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Voorhees, N.J.

The ads have turned into a competition "to see who can sell more of their antihistamines or nasal sprays. The patient is at best incompletely informed and at worst ... deluded," Agro said.

The proposed resolution asks the AMA to petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban "direct to consumer" prescription drug ads. It is one of several resolutions at the meeting that seek to curb what many doctors think is interference from the pharmaceutical industry into the doctor-patient relationship.

Another proposal asks the AMA to lobby for requiring the ads to display language telling patients that their doctors may recommend other, more appropriate treatment options.

Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, the FDA's medical officer, told the committee overseeing the proposals that the FDA doesn't have the authority to implement a ban since the ads are allowed by law.

Several doctors told the committee a ban would violate free-speech rights.

Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the ads, which have been around since the 1980s. The AMA initially opposed the ads, but current policy says they're acceptable as long as they contain a clear health message, refer patients to their doctors for more information and don't encourage self-diagnosis and self-treatment.

Several doctors told committee members that they like the ads since they may encourage patients who wouldn't otherwise seek needed medical attention to schedule a doctor's visit.

Psychiatrist Dr. Saul Levin said ads for antidepressants, for example, help take the stigma out of depression and may make sufferers realize they're not alone.

The committee will review the resolutions before deciding whether to send them on to the AMA's policy-making House of Delegates, which starts voting Tuesday on the more than 250 reports and resolutions presented during the annual meeting.

Also on Sunday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson addressed the delegates and told them the Bush administration believes a patients bill of rights is likely to become a reality.

An AMA-backed plan pending on CapitoHill would allow patients to sue managed-care organizations. President Bush has said he'd veto any proposal that encourages lawsuits rather than resolving disputes in independent reviews.

Debate on the AMA-backed bill is due in the Senate this week, and Thompson told the delegates, "We believe we're 90 percent there" toward reaching an agreement that will produce legislation "that provides strong patient protections for all Americans."

"Every patient should be able to get the treatment that he or she needs, including the right ... to see the specialist when a specialist is needed," Thompson said, prompting a standing ovation by several hundred AMA members attending the opening session at a downtown hotel.

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