Drug Familiarization and Therapeutic Misconception Via Direct-to-Consumer Information
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Promotion of prescription drugs may appear to be severely limited in some jurisdictions due to restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA). However, in most jurisdictions, strategies exist to raise consumer awareness about prescription drugs, notably through the deployment of direct-to-consumer information (DTCI) campaigns that encourage patients to seek help for particular medical conditions. In Canada, DTCI is presented by industry and regulated by Health Canada as being purely informational activities, but their design and integration in broader promotional campaigns raise very similar ethical concerns as those associated with DTCA. Specifically, DTCI can be an effective means of familiarizing the public with the scope and benefits of a particular prescription drug and so, like DTCA, can promote increased patient-consumer demand and thus a problematic rise in the prescribing and use of medications that may be neither the most appropriate nor the most cost-effective. Yet, with DTCI the industry is playing within the existing rules and regulations set by health regulators. To respond appropriately to this regulatory incoherence, we argue that DTCI should be regulated as a type of direct-to-consumer indirect advertising. Even if the case and specific regulations presented here are Canadian, the implications extend to every country that has a partial or total prohibition on DTCA.
KeywordsDirect-to-consumer Advertising Information Prescription drugs Pharmaceutical industry Public policy Marketing campaign Therapeutic misconception Drug familiarization
We would like to thank Jean-François Bélisle, Charles Dupras, and Isabelle Ganache for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
Bélisle-Pipon is supported by Ph.D. scholarships from the Institut de recherche en santé publique de l’Université de Montréal (IRSPUM), the Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ), and the Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé (FRQ-S) & Unité SOUTIEN-SRAP du Québec. Williams-Jones’ research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
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