Researchers at the University of Georgia have revealed that a majority of prescription drug ads on television do not devote much airtime on informing the consumers about the risk and side-effects associated with the use of these drugs.
A research team led by Wendy Macias, associate professor in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, analyzed direct-to-consumer ads for a week, both on broadcast and cable television.
The findings revealed that while the average 60-second ad contained less than 8 seconds of side effect disclaimers, the average 30-second ad had less than 4.4 seconds of disclaimers. And the majority of the 15-second ads devoted no time at all to disclaimers.
"These ads clearly don't devote enough time to information about risk. Adding to the problem is that the information is often presented in a way that people aren't likely to comprehend or even pay attention to," said Macias.
The researchers found that maximum ads contained disclosure on side-effects only in the voice-over portion of the ad. And just 2.2 percent of ads had the disclosure in voice-over as well as in text form.
According to the 1997 FDA guidelines, drug companies that were allowed to expand the scope of their direct-to-consumer advertising also required to "present a fair balance between information about effectiveness and information about risk."
As fair balance was not defined by the FDA, Macias classified the ads as: Lawbreakers i.e. ads that don't mention side effects at all; Bare minimums i.e. those that list side effects but spend less than 10 percent of time on risk information; The main pack i.e. ads that spend more than 10 percent of time on risk information; and The proactive, safety oriented approach i.e. ads which gives equal treatment to both the risks and the benefits of the drug.
The team of researchers discovered that two percent of the ads were lawbreakers, 10 percent met bare minimum requirements and 88 percent comprised the main pack.
"Very few advertisers are really doing well enough when it comes to actually trying to educate the consumer. The ads are presented in such a way that the consumer would have to be paying very close attention and be adept at processing the information to really understand the risks as well as the benefits," said Macias.
Despite arguments by the proponents of direct-to-consumer ads and the critics, Macias said that most ads could clearly do more to educate consumers and follow a more balanced approach.
"A prescription drug is something that consumers should be making a rational decision about.And the more information consumers have, the better decisions they can make," she said.
The study appears in the recent issue of the journal Health Communication.