When it comes to drugs and TV ads, there is reason for skepticism: study

About 73 percent of the drugs advertised on television have "low therapeutic value" as compared with existing, efficacious medications, according to a study published Jan. 13 in JAMA Open Network.

The study concluded that while existing drugs likely have had staying power without the need for advertisement on television, manufacturers "have greater incentive to promote drugs of lesser value."

Researchers from New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University, Boston-based Harvard Medical School and Hanover, N.H.-based Dartmouth College reviewed lists of the drugs most often advertised on TV between 2015 and 2021 in the U.S. The medications were assigned values based on safety profile, therapeutic benefit and the strength of evidence supporting efficacy. A drug that received a rating of moderate or higher during the researchers' assessment was considered a "high value" drug for the purpose of the study. 

Of the 81 drugs reviewed, only 73 received a value rating at all, and 53 of those were labeled "low benefit." Companies paid almost $16 billion to advertise on television the drugs viewed as having low value compared to others on the market. 

The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising. 

The American Medical Association, along with many physicians' groups, have long called for a ban on prescription drug advertising. In a 2015 news release, the AMA said the ads harm patients by "driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives."

The direct-to-consumer efforts continue, however, with pharmaceutical companies paying billions of dollars for television advertising annually, according to the study. 

Regulators could put limits on drug advertising, perhaps requiring proof of high therapeutic value, though the study authors concluded that "policy changes would likely require industry cooperation or face constitutional challenge."

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